Cardiff City’s home match against Watford back in October was a bittersweet affair. While Aron Gunnarsson’s late header sealed the points for City, extending our 100% home run, the result was tarnished by an injury sustained by the man that he’d replaced – Tommy Smith.
After a twelve week spell on the side-lines, Tommy came back with a bang. On his first start back in a City shirt last month, a sweetly struck left-footed volley proved decisive in a tight encounter at Bloomfield Road against Blackpool. He’s since made the link-up forward berth his own - starting in each of the four subsequent Championship matches.
Our match programme CF11 spoke to Tommy to get his own take on his superb return to action and more.
CF11: It’s been a long time coming Tommy, but the hamstring’s held out well and you’re back into the swing of things. It must be a relief.
TOMMY:Yeah it was a frustrating three months during my injury period and, at the time, I was really disappointed. I felt that I was just starting to properly get going and get up to match fitness, as I didn’t have the chance to have a proper pre-season at the club.
CF11: And thinking back to that game against Watford, did you know that it was a bad injury as soon as you pulled up?
TOMMY:I think in my gut I felt it was fairly bad, but you always cling on to the hope that it might just feel worse than it actually is. That does happen on occasion but, unfortunately for me, it was a pretty bad tear. I think in the end it was a centimetre tear in my hamstring, so straight after the scan we knew it was going to be a twelve week injury. As soon as you find that out, you can start to get your head around how long the rehab and recovery is going to be until you get back to full fitness.
CF11: Malky Mackay has likened your return to having a new signing at the club. That kind of support from the management must be crucial when you’re coming back from an extended time out?
TOMMY:Exactly. It’s brilliant to have that support from the Manager, as well as from the physios who have been fantastic all the way through my recovery. My layoff coincided with Nicky’s as well, so we’ve spent a lot of time together in the physio room and they've worked their socks off with us both. To me, it seems like the support that we received represents the culture of this club – we've got a fairly large squad but everyone gets along and we’re all pulling in the same direction. Even if players aren't starting, they’re still 100% behind the team. That feels quite unique, and it’s certainly nice to be a part of.
CF11: Of course, you’ve got a good relationship with Malky from your time together at Watford. It seems as if you fit right in to what he wants to do here – you must feel like this is the right place for you?
TOMMY:Yeah, absolutely. I think something that the Gaffer prides himself on is ensuring that he recruits the right players and staff members so that everyone is pulling together as one cohesive unit. He’s a great man-manager as well which is something that all of the players respect, so it’s a joy to come in every day, working amongst this group, the staff and the Gaffer.
CF11: Obviously you've still got a few years on the pitch ahead of you Tommy, but could you ever see yourself in management?
TOMMY:(Laughs) Nicely put! It’s not really something I've though too much about at the moment. I haven’t taken my badges yet, so that’s certainly something that I should do fairly soon if I do want to go down that route. I think a lot of players know that they want to be managers from their mid-twenties, but I’m still not sure at the moment. It’s certainly something that I haven’t ruled out, but I may just want to start something afresh.
CF11: And you may well ‘do a Giggsy’ and go on playing for another six or seven years yet!
TOMMY:Well hopefully! That’s the plan – as long as my legs hold out then that would be great!
and avoid any slip-ups isn't it?CF11: Your role as a senior professional in the side is an important one. While everyone else seems to be talking about promotion, it’s your job to make sure the younger lads keep their eye on the ball
TOMMY:Yeah, this league is famous for producing upsets and you still see top teams getting bitten regularly. You’re starting to see it in the top flight as well, but for as long as I've played in the Championship, every game’s been a tough one and you've got to be on the ball every single week to make sure that you pick up maximum points. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where the pressure mounts after a couple of bad performances. With our experience, we’re fully aware that we’ll have to maintain our work ethic and ensure that everyone is fully focused up to May 4thand beyond.
CF11: While that experience has been vital, it’s also blended perfectly with a good crop of young players this year.
TOMMY: Yeah exactly – we've got a really nice blend which seems to be working well. It’s not just that, but we've also got a good balance throughout the squad in regard to pace in the right areas, strength and height. All credit goes to the staff and management for building that, on top of the players that were already here. I think it’s certainly a squad that deserves to be where it is, at the top of the league.
CF11: Nobody epitomises the ability and determination of our younger players more than Ben Nugent perhaps, who hadn't put a foot wrong until the final minute of Saturday’s game against Bristol City. He’s been phenomenal since stepping up hasn't he?
TOMMY:Yeah, he’s a cracking young professional. There aren't too many that I've seen at that age with the attitude and mentality that he’s got. That holds him in good stead for situations like Saturday. As a defender you will make those mistakes, and it’s one that he won’t be able to forget. Unfortunately everyone else will remember it too, but he’ll be desperate for the next game now so that he can move on. It’s a shame, because he had such a strong performance, but he’s had a bit of stick from the lads over the last couple of days and it will only help him to learn and improve.
CF11: Fortunately for Ben, the damage had already been done in that game by Fraizer Campbell, who had a perfect home debut. You've played just off the striker in the last few matches, and it seems to have really clicked in that area.
TOMMY: able to play as much as he would have liked for Sunderland, but I think their loss is our gain. We saw that on Saturday as he was fantastic and scored a couple of goals. He’s not even 100% fit yet either, so I can’t wait to see him when he is! It’s just nice to have another great option in an attacking area, but it’s going to be a tough decision for the Manager as everyone’s trying really hard to make the shirt their own.wasn'tAbsolutely. He’s a cracking signing for us and he’s still a great young prospect. Sadly injuries meant that he