Cardiff City: Will injuries derail Bluebirds' promotion push?
Two days before Christmas, Cardiff City were four points behind Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with fans daring to dream of automatic promotion.
Built on a modest budget by manager Neil Warnock, they were difficult to score against and blessed with a happy knack of turning potential defeats into draws and routine draws into unlikely wins.
But following four consecutive defeats over the holidays after just three losses in the previous 22 league games, the Bluebirds trail Wolves by 14 points and have dropped to third in the table.
The bookmakers are predicting a sixth or seventh-place finish. So what's happened?
Injuries take a toll
Warnock, who incredibly presided over his 1,400th game as a manager at the end of December, is celebrating 50-years in the game this season and is plotting a record eighth promotion.
However, his plans have been derailed by an extraordinary number of injuries that could have seen the Bluebirds gather a complete first XI in the treatment room.
|Cardiff City's casualty list|
|Lee Camp||knee||Yet to make debut|
|Lee Peltier||hip||Expected back February|
|Matt Connolly||calf||Expected back February|
|Aron Gunnarsson||knee operation||Out since November|
|Craig Bryson||Achilles||Out since 26 December|
|Kadeem Harris||ankle||Out since August|
|Frederic Gounoungbe||undisclosed||Out since 26 November|
|Anthony Pilkington||various||Played twice since August|
|Danny Ward||knee operation||Out since 1 December|
|Sean Morrison||knee||out 11 December to 6 January|
|Jazz Richards||ankle||out 23 September to 6 January|
"We are that thin on the ground and we need to get 18 players on the team sheet, I honestly don't know how," Warnock said before Cardiff's 0-0 FA Cup draw with Mansfield.
"If the game was played yesterday we'd have only had five substitutes which just shows the situation we are in at the moment, it's pretty dire.
"We seem to be going to one crisis to another.
"We are not going to be as exciting or flamboyant without some players, but we can still pick up points.
"I am not really bothered how we are playing at the moment until we get these players back.
"It is not going to be pretty stuff but at this time of year with the injuries and suspensions we have to be organised and try and make sure we get the points."
Warnock says he wants to make at least one permanent signing and a further "one or two" on loan in the January transfer window to aid his stretched squad.
Owner Vincent Tan has said money will be available in January, but Warnock does not expect to spend lavishly.
"There's probably only one player who I would bid to buy. The rest are all loan players," Warnock said.
"I've already told him [Tan] I don't want silly money. There aren't many I want to buy.
"Most of the lads I'd like to loan for a few months. It's difficult to buy players in January. There are four or five loan players. If we can get one or two of them, I'd be delighted.
"We're just looking to supplement what we've got with players who I think can do it at this level. There's not a lot wrong."
Greedy for success
While four successive defeats have all but eradicated City hopes of being Championship champions, Warnock is quick to point out the Bluebirds are still ahead of where he expected.
Seriously threatened by relegation when he took over in October, 2016, Cardiff are now looking up and despite their blip are within striking distance of Derby County in second place.
"Back in August I'd have taken being four points off the play-offs or something like that," said Warnock.
"Around about eighth or 10th is where I thought we'd be, but now I'm getting greedy.
"I think if I do my job right I can get us a lot higher than that."
It has been a tricky month for the Bluebirds, but with an experienced manager who is certain not to panic, this is a story that could yet still have a happy ending for Cardiff supporters.