Ahead of Sunday’s Carling Cup Final between Liverpool and Cardiff, we asked Bluebirds supporter David Flynn to give us the lowdown on the opposition.
How is your season in general? Better or worse than you would have hoped…
At the start of the season I was hopeful that we could stay in touch with the play off places but in reality so far it’s been much, much better. There were a number of personnel changes following Dave Jones’ departure and we lost a lot of key players (Bellamy, Bothroyd, Chopra and Burke) so things could have gone either way.
Malky Mackay has done an excellent job with some shrewd signings from north of the border and seems to have bonded the squad well, we haven’t always produced some of the football aesthetic we enjoyed during the latter years of Jones’ tenure but greater collective application and, dare I say it, commitment from some quarters has yielded positive results including victories against frontrunners West Ham and Southampton. This coupled with impressive home and away unbeaten runs have kept us in and around third spot for most of the season yet despite the opportunities that have presented themselves to make an impression on the automatic places we have as yet been unable to capitalise when it’s mattered. My hope that our Carling Cup success would be the fillip we needed to inspire a real title challenge has so far backfired and we approach Sunday’s game with only one win in the five games since we got to Wembley and the cries of one eye on the final ringing in the players ears. Perhaps beating Liverpool FC and winning the League Cup at Wembley on Sunday will provide the team with all the inspiration they need to bring more silverware back to Wales!
You’ve survived 2 penalty shoot-outs on the way to Wembley. Would you say you’ve maybe been a little lucky?
One positive trait we share with Liverpool FC and indeed the German national team is that in recent years we have been pretty good at penalty shootouts! I was surprisingly confident when it went to penalties against Palace but this immediately evaporated when Kenny Miller missed the first pen! In fairness our remaining kicks were well dispatched, perhaps the benefit of good training ground preparation and Tom Heaton made up for his error in the first leg with some great saves. Against Leicester City in the third round we managed to convert all seven penalties we took so whatever the coaching team are doing when it comes to preparation for penalties it certainly seems to have paid off.
This is your fourth visit to the new Wembley. What have you made of the Stadium?
As a Welsh football fan Wembley holds no great affinity for me and in its present incarnation it just appears to be the mother ship of clinical modern identikit football stadia. The view of the game is good from all the parts of the ground I’ve sat in but there does seem to be something lacking in its identity. The old Wembley was pretty dire but at least the ground was distinctive and you always knew where you were. I will say though that access to the stadium itself and the facilities on the concourses is pretty good (provided you are prepared to pay £7.50 for a burger and chips and £4 a pint) and I have never had any problems travelling to and from the ground via tube.
Any tips for first time visit? Where to drink, what to avoid, travel etc…
If you are driving look to park at a commuter underground station (preferably on the outskirts of the city) near where your inbound motorway meets the M25, you should find the car parks are quiet there on the weekends. If you are in town before the game I would avoid the build up of football traffic in and around the pubs near the main underground stations on the Metropolitan Line, on the last visit we found some decent bars a couple of streets away from Baker Street station and if you venture a bit further up towards Marylebone there are some more good pubs, bars and places to eat (although I’m afraid the names have escaped me!)
The match obviously sees Craig Bellamy up against his hometown club. What’s your thoughts on the man?
Personally I have always really enjoyed watching Bellers he always tries to beat a man with the ball and is a very unselfish player. His commitment and attitude during games never falls below 100% and, despite his reputation in some quarters, he has a decent disciplinary record. It was a shame that he wasn’t able to help us over the line last season but he did provide some great moments of magic, his winner in the South Wales Derby at the Liberty Stadium in 2011 will live long in the memory of many Cardiff City fans. It’s no surprise to me that he is doing so well in his second spell at Anfield, I felt he was underused by Rafa Benitez and probably shouldn’t have been sold after just one season although perhaps he might never have ended up at Cardiff City had that been the case! The mature Bellamy is now a positive role model for younger players, he is articulate, forthright and honest about the game, I am convinced that his influence has also impacted positively on the recent improvements the young Welsh national team have made in the FIFA rankings.
It also sees Steven Gerrard up against his cousin, Anthony, how good is he?
I think it’s fair to say most fans think he has been patchy and that Anthony’s career at Cardiff City so far can be defined by his performances before and after he went out on loan to Hull last season. Prior to that move he struggled a bit and the more critical fans amongst us were heard to remark that the only thing he had in common with his illustrious cousin was blood! He returned to Cardiff having been voted Hull’s player of the season and found himself immediately in contention for a starting place up until we signed Ben Turner. I believe he has responded well to Mackay’s management and has been able to contribute to the team more, there was talk of a bid for him from Forest during the January window and I wouldn’t be surprised if he left for pastures new if there was guaranteed first team football. A lot will depend I think on where we end up next season. He seems like a decent lad though and has delighted our away contingent by pole axing opposition mascots with a ‘misdirected’ shot on a number of occasions. If only he was so deadly in front of goal…
What do you think will be the key battle(s) on the day?
As the underdogs I think we will be tested in all parts particularly in midfield as Liverpool are very mobile and work hard off the ball to contain sides, if Gunnarsson is assigned to shackle Steven Gerrard then he will probably need to have a big, big game. I’m hopeful that in playing a Premiership side at Wembley we may get the opportunity to pass it a little more than in the Championship if so this could mean Peter Whittingham comes into the game more and he will cause problems for any team, I would rate him over the likes of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson at the moment. The likely key for us will be how the centre halves (likely to be Mark Hudson if fit and Ben Turner) measure up against the threat of Suarez/Carroll/Bellamy, Turner is strong in the air and I’m sure he’ll enjoy a rattle against Andy Carroll (should he start for you) however when isolated Hudson can be fallible.
Who do you regard as your key players?
Peter Whittingham is the fulcrum of our team and is the best passer of the ball in the Championship. When on his game we will always play well and he had the Match of the Day pundits purring during the Semi Final, he has chipped in with goals this season too and presents a threat from set pieces (Liverpool have often been poor in defending these areas when I’ve watched them this season) . It would be great to see him get the plaudits he deserves from a showpiece occasion. Kenny Miller has been an excellent signing for us and his experience and awareness has been another major factor in our successes so far this season. He has been a little quiet of late but it would be just like him to pop up with a goal in this game.
And who do you fear most from us?
Well up until recently a lot of fans were hoping that Carroll would start! Worryingly for us it looks like his confidence is starting to grow and this is a great opportunity for him to make an impression on the doubters. I have already alluded to the obvious threat that the class of Bellamy, Suarez and Gerrard will pose and I don’t think our defence would have come up against anyone with Luis Suarez’s ability in and around the penalty area in the Championship this season. Elsewhere Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez both have a lot of experience and tend to chip in with goals in big games too.
What’s your likely line-up?
There is a question as to whether Malky will stick with Tom Heaton who has been first choice keeper in this competition; many feel he deserves a start given his exploits in the second leg although at the time of writing there is a question mark on his fitness.
I think Malky will take into account the opposition’s strengths and play it quite safe with: Marshall, McNaughton, Turner, Hudson (if available Gerrard if not), Taylor, Cowie, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Vukic, Conway, Miller.
And that good old predictions please…
Cardiff City of course – 9-8 on penalties!
Good luck for the final.
Big thanks to David for his excellent responses to our questions.