Cardiff City's 'Inconceivable' McNaughton Decision
Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay has worked wonders with a small and hastily put together squad this season, but recent Championship form has been desperately disappointing with results and general play falling far below the Bluebirds' now expected standards.
Mackay has kept faith with his players, and clearly there is a great mutual respect and understanding between the starting XI and manager. However, given the physical, mental and emotional exertions of the Carling Cup - Mackay must be looking to freshen things up as we look to regain some form.
There aren't too many options available however, but Craig Conway, Haris Vuckic and Filip Kiss will all be hoping to return to the starting line-up and show Mackay they can help the City cause. Robert Earnshaw is available, but seems out of Mackay's plans, despite Miller being out-of-sorts. Youngster Kadeem Harris could also bring another dimension as a tricky winger but Mackay will be reluctant to throw him into a misfiring team.
In defence, Hudson and Turner are certainly the first choice and rightly so. Andrew Taylor is doing OK but is certainly not showing his best form, however, Kevin McNaughton must now be fearing for his place in the side - quite possibly for the first time in his City career!
McNaughton is an outstanding defender. Pacy, dogged and determined - he is a class act and often the first name on the team-sheet. He will run all day, and his support on the right flank in attack was critical to our best form. He has always struggled somewhat with his final delivery and p[persistent hamstring injuries but 'Super Kev' has been a fantastic and consistent performer over the years for City.
Unfortunately of late, McNaughton has looked jaded, frustrated and even nervous at times. He has been guilty of wasting possession far too cheaply (even though his options have been limited) and he has been making uncharacteristic mistakes. The exuberance and work-rate is still there, but McNaughton is playing nowhere near his best.
On Sunday, both goals came down the City right when first Kevin Nolan crept between McNaughton and Hudson and then left-back George McCartney was allowed to rampage at will, running fully 50 metres before tucking away a loose clearance after crossing. These were uncharacteristic of McNaughton, and his loose backheader nearly gifted a chance to Maynard - only for Marshall to superbly save.
Cardiff City do have Darcy Blake ready to step in, while Paul Quinn is a less likely option but a solid Championship full-back. Blake has not let us down in any of his appearances, looking strong and assured in defence and a willing runner in supporting the attack. Darcy deserves a chance, and for the first time - could get it at McNaughton's expense. The Scot is the primary reason why Blake has been kept out of the side over the years, but is a good option if Mackay opts to change things. In almost 250 McNaughton appearances for CCFC, only 5 have come as a substitute.
Word coming from the Cardiff City camp is that, of all the squad, McNaughton took the Wembley defeat harder than any. he was the ringleader of celebrations following the FA Cup semi-final win back in 2008 (despite being replaced at halftime through injury) and suffered the agonising defeat in the final. He also was forced to leave3 the field during the disastrous 3-2 play-off defeat to Blackpool, and will have been hurt by the deja vu near miss against Liverpool.
Clearly, McNaughton remains a fine player and a top Championship full-back. A combination of form, fatigue and fate have seen him struggle of late and perhaps a rest would benefit him and the team in the long run. I have no doubts he will return to top form, almost certainly this season but for the forthcoming games, Kevin McNaughton is, rightly, a prime candidate to be rested from the Cardiff City starting XI.