Cardiff City Selection Headaches: # 2
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 2: Kevin McNaughton and ?????
When it comes to full-backs, there are few in the Championship who come close to Kevin McNaughton when fit and he is regarded by many as the most consistent player in the squad. That the performances are consistently excellent is also a valid point. Super Kev has struggled with injuries, causing problems with his hamstrings and back for some time. More recently, he suffered an un-related thigh strain but was not rushed back and is fit and ready for the play-offs. His most natural position is at right-back, but he is equally comfortable on the left and is a realistic option given the defensive weaknesses in Peter Whittingham`s game.
That means that instead of selecting a left-back for the Leicester game - Jones is free to select from his abundant pool of full-backs with McNaughton slotting in on the other flank. Paul Quinn, Mark Kennedy, Adam Matthews, Tony Capaldi or possibly Darcy Blake are the contenders for a starting place with all expected to be fit and available. Form those players, I would rule out Tony Capaldi whose future at the club is clear in so far as he looks certain to leave. Additionally, Paul Quinn has only played one game since returning from injury himself - ironically a hamstring injury picked up against Leicester City - a game in which he was magnificent as a stand-in centre-half.
That leaves a straight choice between Kennedy (left) or Matthews (right) assuming that Darcy Blake is not considered - he has not featured as a full-back for the Bluebirds all season and may yet be selected at centre-half. The differences between the two are obvious. Mark Kennedy is a seasoned pro, vastly experienced and has gained promotion via the play-offs in the past. He has adapted his game as a former winger to a full-back position and plugs gaps effectively with a good understanding of the game, a solid presence and a cultured left foot. He tends to be conservative in supporting the attack and lacks the pace to get back if caught out.
By contrast, Adam Matthews is a talented youngster who has emerged this season as a real prospect and alerted the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal. He is energetic and offers a threat in attack, both overlapping and cutting inside with a good cross and ability to beat players. He has the pace to cover in defence, and has found a good tactical awareness and assuredness on the ball, lacking in his first few appearances for the club. Nevertheless, Matthews is raw and has never played in a game of this magnitude. The derby win over Swansea City will have prepared him somewhat, but it remains a big ask despite his maturity.
Both players offer crucial, yet vastly different advantages and disadvantages making this a tricky decision for Dave Jones. Bearing in mind we play Leicester away first, we must ensure we are still in the game for the return leg. Does that mean being defensively minded and conservative? Or is attack the best form of defence, with the youthful energy providing another option whilst remaining tight and effective at the back? Personally, I`d go for the best player as the one to give us the best chance.
Vital Cardiff Decision: Adam Matthews
Expected DJ Decision: Mark Kennedy
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The other major decisions faced by Dave Jones are available to view below:
# 1 A case for the defence
# 3 Over the hill, or on the bench?