We spoke to Aled Blake ahead of our two playoff games against Cardiff…
How good a job has Neil Harris done this season? Is he a massive upgrade from Neil Warnock or not?
Harris has done brilliantly since his appointment, and I speak as someone who firmly believes Neil Warnock to be one of our best managers of all time. He wasn’t the overwhelming choice when he got the job, a lot of people thought he’d play a similar brand of football to Warnock – reliant on set-pieces and long balls. But he’s slowly and steadily done what he said he would do, transitioned the side into one which keeps the ball better, attacks when it can and defends as a unit. We still play it long, and we still rely on set-pieces, but we also play much more possession football than we have done for a long time. And we play some really good stuff at times. Is he a massive upgrade? Well – and this might be difficult for outsiders to understand – nobody could be. Warnock transformed our club, it was broken when he got here and he fixed it and we’ll be grateful for that for years to come.
Who’s been your standout player so far this season?
A difficult one. Lee Tomlin is a player transformed under Neil Harris; Joe Ralls becomes a more mature midfielder with each passing season; our captain Sean Morrison has been outstanding once again, what a leader. But I think, given what he’s been through and the fact he was on the bench all last season, goalie Alex Smithies has been brilliant. He has competed with another fine keeper in Neil Etheridge, who never made it at Craven Cottage, and he’s been consistent, commands his area and has made some key saves.
Bobby Reid currently plays for us, but has been fairly average. How would you rate his time at Cardiff, and would you have wanted him to stay if you had the choice?
I’d rate Bobby’s time at Cardiff City as a missed opportunity. He was a strange buy for Warnock, given you couldn’t really see Reid suiting his systems or his style of play so he was always up against it. I can’t say we ever saw the player he was at Bristol City, and that’s a big shame. A lot of fans were furious when we sold him (or loaned him) in the summer, but I saw how it was the best for both the club and the player at the time. Given all that, I’d love to see him in our current side, under Harris he’d offer something different and I think he would be able to make the most of Reid’s obvious talent.
If you were to achieve promotion through the playoffs, how far away do you think your current squad is from being Premier League ready?
This squad is largely the same as the one we had in the Premier League when we were up there with you last time, give or take a couple of players here or there. So there is Premier League experience. I think most of us thought we had a good enough squad to stay up last time, so it was a surprise we didn’t take the opportunities when we had them. We’d have to add to it if we went up, the question is – given the current economic climate – just how much money would there be to spend. I’d just be happy to have another crack at the top flight.
Where do you think you would finish next season if you stayed in the Championship? And where do you think you would finish if you went up?
If we stay in the Championship and make a few prudent signings we have the potential to be a top-two side. Our form under Harris since he took over is evidence of that. If we went up, well I’d be delighted to finish fourth from bottom and stay there for more than just one season!
Fulham VS Cardiff: what’s the first thing that comes to mind from years gone by?
Watching the away fixture on Sky in 1996 after we made a few new signings following some new investment in the club and us beating you 4-1. I thought it was the start of a new era for Cardiff City, it turned out to be yet another false dawn.
How do you see the game going over both legs?
I’m a naturally pessimistic supporter, and I hate to make predictions about the Bluebirds – it’s my one superstition in life. Fulham play some lovely football and there’s been a bit of rivalry between the two sides in recent years and no little drama in the games too (I’m thinking of Arter’s sending off earlier this season!). Your performance at Craven Cottage against us the other week was impressive. But the only thing I would predict is that we’ll be a different side to that one and will play with far more aggression, tactically and physically. I expect us to be well up for it.