City have the perfect blend of youth and experience - says Will Pallot.
Malky Mackay has always cited experience as being key to his side's aspirations of promotion glory this season. Should we achieve our goal in the coming weeks, there would be every reason to believe in the weight of the Gaffer's sentiments.
This Cardiff City side is brimming with seasoned veterans of successful second-tier campaigns, and not just amongst the playing staff either. Malky himself famously earned promotion to the Premier League in three successive seasons for Norwich City, West Ham United and Watford in his playing days, while Assistant Manager David Kerslake tasted Play-Off final victory when playing for Swindon Town.
Indeed, that coaching experience could well be crucial with just 9 games of this campaign left. Malky’s also looked to add similar experience to the playing ranks to ensure that we have sufficient guile on the pitch to maintain a challenge at the very top of the table.
CONNOLLY & CAMPBELL: Of course age is not necessarily synonymous with experience in football, and two of this season’s recruits who’ve already tasted Championship success in the past are comparative youngsters in the current City side – namely Matt Connolly and Fraizer Campbell.
Fraizer’s haul of 15 goals helped Hull City en route to promotion via the playoffs in 2007-08. But at the same age, Connolly’s Championship CV is even more remarkable. In fact, if we were to go the whole way this year, he would earn the same unusual accolade as his manager in playing a part in three successive promotions to the Premier League. Having made 36 league appearances in QPR’s promotion season in 2010-11, the former Arsenal trainee was loaned out to Reading for the final stretch of their 2011-12 campaign. Although he only played 6 games, the Royals won 5 of those (conceding just once) and jumped from 7th place to their eventual position as Champions during his spell at the Madejski.
PREMIER CLASS: But age and experience are a trusted formula when striving for promotion, and in the summer Malky boosted up the average age of our squad through the recruitment of the likes of Heidar Helguson, Tommy Smith and Craig Bellamy. Helguson and Smith of course enjoyed promotion to the Premier League together at QPR, while a young Tommy was just starting out his career at Watford when they achieved successive promotions from the Second Division all the way up to the top flight between 1997 and 1999.
The three forwards have been fine ambassadors for the club this season, carrying out the duties expected of experienced squad members in an exemplary manner. Heidar’s younger striking partners have regularly praised his role in tutoring them on the training pitch, while Bellamy is known for demanding his teammates to emulate his impeccable work ethic and dedication. Meanwhile, Smith’s class and professionalism, honed throughout his 16 year career, are sure to rub off on the younger members of the squad.
However, all three have contributed just as much on the pitch as off it. While Heidar is our joint top scorer with eight league and cup strikes to date, each have arguably single-handedly won us vital games this season. Think back to Heidar’s brave brace at Portman Road against Ipswich; Bellamy’s first-time strike past Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester, and Smith’s spectacular left-footed volley to seal the points at Blackpool.
The experience of such players is a vital asset in this notoriously rigorous league, and it’s something which has aided other sides to get over the finishing line in seasons past. Jason Roberts, then 34, was the catalyst for Reading’s end of season surge which eventually saw them crowned champions last year. While the winners of the previous Championship season, QPR, certainly put their faith in experience as they started eleven players over the age of 30 through the course of the season, resulting in an unusually high average age of 27. The likes of Paddy Kenny and Shaun Derry, provided a veteran spine for the side alongside Helguson and Smith, allowing for the precocious talent of Adel Taarabt to roam free and grab the headlines. Sounds a little familiar perhaps?
THIRTY SOMETHINGS: Indeed, experienced campaigners Kevin McNaughton, Don Cowie and Mark Hudson have all joined the thirty club this season. And with well over 1000 career appearances between them, they have brought yet further know-how to the mix.
Hudson in particular has been experience personified this season. A leader of men, he has fulfilled the role of club captain in textbook fashion. This was best shown perhaps when an injury ravaged back four forced 19-year-old Ben Nugent into league action at the deep end. Nugent has shown all the attributes needed to be a top centre half, but with Hudson at his side to shepherd him into Championship football, his transition from DVP to 1st team has been near seamless. In fact, we are unbeaten in the matches where the defensive partnership – with 11 years between them – have featured alongside each other.
Nugent is just starting the process of getting vital Championship games under his belt, but elsewhere in the side there are other young players already building up a wealth of experience – both at club level and on the international scene.
THE YOUNGER LEADERS: The ink is still drying on Aron Gunnarsson’s new contract which will keep him in South Wales until 2016. Still at just 23 years of age, the Icelander is already captain of his country and has 33 international caps to his name. Meanwhile, at the same age Kim Bo-Kyung has similar international pedigree with 17 caps for South Korea - and an Olympic bronze medal in his personal trophy cabinet to boot. Meanwhile, many have commented on the leadership qualities of the quietly consistent former England U21 international, Andrew Taylor; surely a captain of the future.
The experience of those in our squad who have been there, done it and worn the promotion t-shirts in the past could be a priceless commodity to have as we enter the business end of the season.
But those players will know more than anyone that there’s plenty of hard work left to be done. And while they, along with the rest of the squad, will not be taking anything for granted, let’s hope that they’ll be doing it all over again come May 4th.