The Cardiff City players with a point to prove this term
Cardiff City's Lee Tomlin in action against Reading | Photo by Cardiff City FC|Getty Images

Lee Tomlin

Having guided the Bluebirds to the play-off semi-finals at the back end of the 2019/20 campaign with eight strikes and a further 10 assists, last year was an almighty frustration for maverick midfielder Lee Tomlin.

A succession of injuries and fitness-related issues meant that the maestro only chalked up five appearances, finding the back of the net just once and even receiving his marching orders in an early-season away fixture at Blackburn Rovers.

However, that is not to say his quality has diminished and Cardiff City supporters believe that they could yet witness another resurgence from Tomlin, who has previously suffered knock backs at the club before reigniting his flame.

Excitement has been fuelled recently following a productive pre-season, where Tomlin has featured in each of their outings and displayed liveliness, exhibiting clear shades of the magician that wowed the Cardiff City Stadium two seasons prior.

It is set to be a significant year for both parties. Tomlin's current contract runs until the summer of 2022, leaving him with a year to impress, whereas a possible revival is also integral for Cardiff's sake, who find themselves desperate for an injection of creativity and guile after Harry Wilson's one-year loan spell expired.

Replacing a player of Wilson's undoubted talent is a tall order and it has surfaced as a cause for outcry among Cardiff supporters, although they may just have their ready-made replacement if they can keep the maverick fully fit and firing.

Gavin Whyte

Meanwhile, speedy wide man Gavin Whyte is returning from a successful loan stint at Hull City, where he spent the second half of last season and will now be hoping that his exploits on Humberside have been enough to earn his stripes in the opinion of Mick McCarthy.

After signing for Cardiff in July 2019 from Oxford United, Whyte's career took off initially under Neil Warnock- and it was little surprise.

Whyte is very much the embodiment of what the veteran manager desires in his recruits; a willing runner and presser, the Northern Ireland international is renowned for his tendency to drop back and provide additional defensive cover, whilst also being able to run at defenders and create space in the final third.

Unfortunately, though, it did not work out under Neil Harris following Warnock's exit, with an increased responsibility for wingers to be direct and clinical in front of goal leaving Whyte on the periphery.

Now, under McCarthy, the dynamic 25-year-old will be desperate to kick on for City and prove his worth in the Championship, nearly two years on from his second-tier debut.

McCarthy has already explained that interest in Whyte's signature has circulated, and though he suggested that regular game time may be hard to come by, his first port of call is to make a full assessment of the player himself.

"There are a few interested in taking him [Whyte] on loan," McCarthy told WalesOnline.

"But as I said to all of them, let's have a look at him first and see what develops.

"In terms of who we are going to play and who we already have, the likes of Rubin Colwill coming back, is Isaac Vassell going to be fit? Is Mark Harris going to do it this season? Isaak Davies, who would have made his debut on the last game [of the season against Rotherham] but for injury, Josh Murphy is to come back and we've got Ryan Giles playing up top.

"So it is a question of whether he is going to get game time."

The Whyte situation is something of a conundrum and where he fits in is still a mystery. Cardiff's adopted five-at-the-back formation now means they do not operate with conventional wingers, instead opting to use a wide man playing off the shoulder.

Blitzing forward, Murphy has been the main candidate for that role and has impressed, although Whyte's skillset implies that he would be much more effective on the right flank as opposed to through the middle, with his end product seemingly not at the required level for a promotion-hunting side.

However, pre-season has suggested his final ball has underwent some improvement and it could turn out to be a decisive factor in his future with the club. It will definitely be interesting to see how the scenario pans out as a decision develops in the motions. 

Isaac Vassell

You would have to look fairly hard to find a player that has endured a more torrid few years than Cardiff's Isaac Vassell, who has been struck down by a series of injuries joining the club nearly two years ago.

In that time, the striker has only made three competitive appearances for the Bluebirds and has a solitary goal to his name, that being a last-grasp debut winner against former employers Luton Town.

At last, though, it seems likely that Vassell will be playing Championship football once again, should he stay injury free.

The former-Birmingham City man found the back of the net in his side's routine 5-0  pre-season victory over Bath City and gave plenty of food for thought to McCarthy, displaying endeavour and impressive ability on the ball to give the National League South side trouble throughout.

Although his esteemed explosiveness and blistering pace off the mark was still gradually building back up, Vassell looked similarly encouraging in further matches before sustaining a knee injury in training, which kept him out of fixtures against Exeter City and Southampton. 

It marked as sore luck for Vassell after building up some much-needed spring and momentum, but he is expected to be back in action soon and will be raring to go for the Bluebirds.

Josh Murphy

Following the exit of divisive German hitman Robert Glatzel, it would now be fair to say that there is no player that polarises the Cardiff City fanbase quite like Josh Murphy.

There has been a real divergence within the opinions held on the skilful winger since he made the switch from Norwich City in 2018 - when the club were preparing for life in the Premier League - though it now appears he is on the right tracks and has won many supporters over.

Admittedly, he is not always at the top of his game, and his Cardiff career has sometimes illuminated by inconsistency, yet those traits are very much typical of a Championship wide man and few who have seen the flyer at full throttle would contest the sheer natural ability he has at his disposal. 

When at his best, Murphy is capable of sparking an extra dimension into the City frontline and since moving from his natural role on the left wing to a secondary striker position, his ability to stretch defences and run in behind has come to full fruition.

Nonetheless, he is yet another player that will be fighting for their future, with his current deal set to expire at the end of next season. 

It is very likely that Murphy will be granted the chance to earn a new contract given the current shortage of players in his mould within the Cardiff ranks.

Wilson, Sheyi Ojo and Junior Hoilett all left the club at the end of last season, leaving the door open for Murphy to continue to receive regular playing time and hopefully do enough to extend his terms. 

As a new promotion bid is pencilled down on the Cardiff City mission briefing this year, they will need all of these players, perhaps none more than Murphy, to exhibit their best form and show just why they should remain at the club.