Cardiff City Selection Headaches: # 1
Cardiff City manager Dave Jones has been in unfamiliar territory during the latter end of the Championship run-in with the majority of his selection headaches being whether to rest top players / rotate to give fit and hungry reserves a chance. That`s in direct contrast to other periods where a central midfield crisis was followed by a defensive one to leave Jones really scraping the Bluebirds barrel for viable options. The Cardiff City team to face Leicester City on Sunday is all but decided but realistically there are three major decisions for Jones to make.
Selection 1: Darcy Blake or Mark Hudson
To armchair fans, or those who have been away recently this is a no-brainer. Darcy Blake started the season behind Hudson, Gerrard, Gyepes, McNaughton and possibly Quinn and Dennehy for a centre-back berth. Even Miguel Comminges was selected ahead of him in a reserve team game! A bit-part player over several seasons, he was even further out of favour this year after being farmed out on loan to Plymouth Argyle. However, since his return coincided with our midfield and defensive crises, Blake has stepped up manfully and showed the promise many had hoped for, and more than most even hoped!
Save for two unpunished but glaring mistakes in the 0-0 away draw at Nottingham Forest, Darcy Blake has been a revelation at centre-back - the position he himself favours after having operated there for Wales U21s and in occasional reserve games. Strong, committed and assured, Blake seems to lack the height and presence to play centre-back at this level. However, he has matured greatly as a player and shown an ability to read the game which had never been evident in his previous performances. Apart from his steely nature, Blake is calm on the ball and adds a cultured option at the back with noticeably better distribution from this area of late (this is no doubt also partly attributable to the return of Steve McPhail in midfield).
It`s tells a story that when Jones picks an end of season XI for a dead rubber at Derby, Darcy Blake was not included in the squad - in previous years he would have been a shoe-in for a game where even the soon-to-be ex-Bluebirds Tony Capaldi and Warren Feeney were given a rare run-out. It seems likely that Blake had done enough to retain his place in the starting XI, but that remains to be seen. An interesting point is that Blake seems to bring the best from partner Anthony Gerrard, who has excelled during the run-in.
Cardiff City captain Mark Hudson has divided fans at CCS this season. Initially, it seemed a peculiar move to sign a central defender and goalkeeper from two relegated clubs during the close season - blowing a significant chunk of our transfer budget - incidentally, money we could not afford to spend. After a shaky start, Hudson has matured into the leader we had hoped for. For me, he grew in confidence after netting a headed goal in a 3-2 defeat at Swansea and his performances have steadily improved.
A chronic lack of pace and cumbersome turn do make Hudson look exposed against speedy strikers but as the back four have evolved as a unit, the space has been far less evident as the season went on. Nevertheless, the likes of Matty Fryatt and Martin Waghorn would certainly fancy themselves with balls to feet and in behind the centre-backs.
A major factor in the decision will be match fitness. While Blake has enjoyed his longest run in professional football, Hudson is only just coming back to fitness after undergoing ankle surgery - effectively handing a chance to Blake in the process. For that reason, Hudson was given the nod to play at Derby County in a bid to get some valuable gametime under his belt and improve match sharpness. Hudson responded by playing particularly well despite a 2-0 defeat by the Rams, he looked fit and alert whilst dominating in the air.
For me, this is the hardest of the three decisions Jones will have to make. The local lad, in form but raw and inexperienced playing the biggest game of his life by far? Or the leader, a powerful presence who has played in front of many big crowds and knows what needs to be done. As a partnership, Blake and Gerrard have looked the soundest, but the attraction is clear for Jones to select his captain.
Vital Cardiff Decision: Mark Hudson
Expected DJ Decision: Mark Hudson
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# 2 All important side issue
# 3 Over the hill, or on the bench?