Having succumbed to relegation from the Premier League last season, Cardiff City will be amongst the favourites to make an immediate return to the top flight when the final whistle goes in May.
It could be argued that the Bluebirds were on the wrong end of some fairly contentious refereeing decisions last term, some that more than irked manager Neil Warnock, who will no doubt look back to his side’s 2-1 defeat against Chelsea, in particular, as a kick in the proverbials.
Despite the financial gulf that separated Cardiff from the Premier League’s elite, they still managed to put up a tremendous fight for survival.
However, a failure to turn losses into draws proved to be the main catalyst for relegation. The Bluebirds lost 10 games by a one goal margin – the most notable a damaging defeat at Fulham, whose return to the Sky Bet Championship had already been confirmed weeks earlier.
Two 0-0 stalemates against Huddersfield Town could also potentially be pinpointed as defining results across the course of the campaign, with the Terriers finishing rock bottom having scored 22 and conceded 76 goals.
It was a difficult transition for Cardiff, back in the top flight for the first time since 2014. Six defeats in their opening eight games left Warnock’s charges bottom of the table on goal difference to Newcastle United, with just two points to their name.
Four wins in their next eight propelled the Bluebirds to 14th, with a rare slice of luck late on against Brighton and Hove Albion helping to secure a priceless 2-1 victory at the Cardiff City Stadium.
They began the New Year in 16th place and with 18 points, a fair return as they looked to avoid the drop.
But tragedy was about to strike.
On 21 January, a light aircraft carrying club-record signing Emiliano Sala disappeared off Alderney. The Argentinean striker, who joined Cardiff from Nantes, was pronounced dead on 7 February after an extensive search and rescue mission. This heart-breaking event united football, with tributes pouring in from across the globe for the 28-year-old.
In the immediate aftermath of this distressing news, City went onto claim a dramatic 2-1 victory at relegation rivals Southampton to claw themselves to within two points of safety heading into the final few months of the season. Kenneth Zohore struck deep into stoppage time after Jack Stephens had cancelled out Bamba’s opener to spark wild scenes in the away end on an emotional day at St Mary’s.
But just one win in their next seven fixtures put a huge dent in City’s survival hopes as they sat five points adrift of Brighton with only five games remaining.
Victory against the Seagulls reignited a fascinating relegation battle, but defeats to Liverpool, Fulham and eventually Crystal Palace sealed Cardiff’s fate as their Premier League journey came to an end.
They did, however, have one last hurrah with a memorable 2-0 victory over a beleaguered Manchester United at Old Trafford on the final day, with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing scoring twice either side of the interval.
City did the double over the Reds a couple of seasons ago, claiming 1-0 and 2-1 wins during the 2017/18 campaign, finishing 2nd in the Championship and thus earning promotion.
The last time Barnsley beat the Bluebirds was in December 2016, with Ryan Williams scoring a dramatic late winner in the Welsh capital to secure a 4-3 triumph. Sam Winnall scored twice for Paul Heckingbottom’s side and Josh Scowen was also on target, while Sean Morrison, Peter Whittingham and Anthony Pilkington stuck for the hosts in a thrilling encounter.