One other thing, the markings given to some of our younger players may strike you as harsh, but they are for what they did in their first team appearances, not what they did at Under 21 or Under 18 level.
Only played eight times, but the loan signing from Norwich was the final piece in the Championship winning jigsaw. Given what’s happened in the last month or so, it’s easy to forget the situation Barnett came into – one win in five matches, defensive kingpin, captain Mark Hudson, out for the season and City’s lead at the top, which had been as much as eleven points, down to just four (all of this at a club which had a reputation for bottling it at the end of a season). Right from the start though Barnett brought an air of cool authority to our play. Norwich fans had said he was good at Championship level, but he’d make one bad mistake a game – he was much better than that though, strong, clean tackling (well, mostly!), extremely powerful heading of the ball from a great leap and more than decent passing ability, it was heart warming to see how much our promotion meant to him as well even though he was only here temporarily – 8.
I kept on waiting for him to start dominating our late season games like he had done in 2010/11, but it never happened. However, could that be because he didn’t need to this time around – was he surrounded by more team mates with both the ability and strength of character not to need carrying like so many had to be two years ago? May not have stood out as much as he did first time around with us and his finishing was certainly not on a par with his earlier spell at Cardiff, but what must it do to City players to see someone who has done so much in the game working so hard to close down opposing defenders like Bellamy did all season long? Probably deserves a 7 for what he did on the pitch, but I’m going to give him more than that because of the attitude he brought to the club – a gradual easing down on the way to retirement is how so many 33 year old’s see things at that stage of their career, not Craig Bellamy though – 8.
With seven goals from twelve appearances, he would surely have been the consistent goalscorer the team lacked if he had been available all season. A Fraizer Campbell goal of the season competition would not make for fantastic viewing, but that proves the point about what a vital signing he was for us – with Joe Mason not featuring as much as last year and Nicky Maynard’s season ruined by injury, we did not have that player who was able to instinctively find space in the penalty area and tap in the “simple” goals until Campbell arrived. By the way, I reckon his first goal against the wurzels was Campbell’s best of the season – it was scored from about eight yards out which was about as “long distance” a goal as he scored for us – 7.
We let in four on his debut, but it didn’t take long for Connolly to show why he had played a part in taking QPR and Reading to the title in the previous two seasons. Would rather play at centreback than right back and he was a little more effective in the former position compared to the latter, but his all round competence, calmness and ability to play out constructively from the back gave us some of the qualities which marked the 2012/13 squad out as an improvement on their predecessors. Also weighed in with five goals that owed a great deal to Peter Whittingham’s dead ball skills, but a terrific volley which hit the crossbar at Huddersfield suggested he could be more than just someone who gets on the end of free kicks and corners in the finishing stakes – 7.
It looked for some time as if Conway would be one of casualties of the increase in quality given us by the spending in the summer of 2011 and it got to the stage where he asked for a transfer in a bid to get the first team football which he couldn’t see himself getting at Cardiff. The request was rejected, but his superb attitude when picked to play for the Development team may well have played a part in Malky Mackay recalling him to the team for the game with Sheffield Wednesday – he scored the only goal that day and never looked back. Was virtually an ever present after that and, although he was not as spectacular as some of his rivals for the wing positions when they were on their game, he provided solidity and a great work ethic as City ground their way to the title – his goal to win the Championship at Burnley was a beauty 7 (6).
Picked up in the autumn after his earlier release by Manchester City, youngster Coulson was a fine attacking right back for the Development side who was missed in their Final with Charlton when a broken meta-tarsal kept him out. Only got the one first team chance when he came on for the last half an hour of the FA Cup tie at Macclesfield and probably could have done more to prevent their equaliser – richly deserved the contract offer he has been given by the club though 4.
Was sometimes referred to as Malky Mackay’s “son” in 11/12 because he appeared to be the first name our manager put on the team sheet, but he only featured twenty four times in the league in 12/13. Cowie’s relegation to something of a bit part player was one of the most telling examples of how the squad had improved from last season because it was difficult to see evidence of a decline in his play when he got his chance. He still provided hard working, technically proficient performances when called upon and he was one of a few City players who would, surely, have been a regular starter at most other Championship clubs – that said, it’s hard to see him starting too often next season. 6 (7).
Talented and quick nineteen year old Turkish international winger who was signed on loan from Fulham in the autumn. He looked good during a brief substitutes appearance in the home game with Burnley, but did little in the away matches at Bolton and Charlton (where he made his only start) before returning to his parent club 5.
An improvement in goalscoring terms from Rudy (who, curiously got all of his five goals at the Canton End in home matches). After missing the first couple of months of the campaign, he remained fit for the rest of the season and so was available for selection more than was in the his first year with us. Saw more action in the closing stages of the campaign when injuries reduced Malky Mackay’s striking options than might have been expected and, although there was some evidence of an improvement in his all round game, he didn’t make too much impression in the games he started. Seems better suited to being used as an impact sub (his late equaliser in the match with Leicester was a very important goal in our season) and, although there will be those who’ll think I’m mad for saying this, I can see him being pretty effective at times in that role next season 6 (6).
Jordon Mutch’s arrival presented Gunnarsson with a challenge and he found himself out of the starting line up at times in the opening weeks of the season, but even when Mutch’s nerve injury in his foot caused him to drop out of the side, the Icelandic captain could not be sure of a game. Three goals while coming off the bench in four games showed his worth to the squad, but it was only when he did the same again against Palace on Boxing Day, that he became a regular starter. Once that had happened though, he became indispensable and it would have been unthinkable of him not to be a starter by the time the season ended. Gunnarsson is a very impressive footballer for someone so young – he provided one of the crosses of the season for Mark Hudson’s goal against Hull while filling in at right back and his lovely little pass to Joe Mason to set up our second goal against Blackburn on Easter Monday showed an inventiveness he’s not always given credit for 8 (8).
Again hit by injuries in the first half of the season, the winger signed from Wycombe finally made his first team bow in the FA Cup tie with Macclesfield and didn’t really seize the opportunity. Can be very effective in Development games at times, but he’s one of a few of our younger players who are very unlikely to see Premiership action and you wonder whether his career would be better served by playing first team football elsewhere while on loan next season 4.
The veteran target man was not the sort of player with the pace to get himself on the end of a quick counter attack, so it was hard to explain why all but two of his nine goals for us came in away matches. One of those rare home goals in the game against Hull epitomised what Helguson is all about as he hurled himself into an aerial challenge with the visiting keeper with no thought of the damage he could be doing himself. Malky Mackay often refered to the Icelandic international as a “warrior” and, although we may have had more aesthetically pleasing players, he still played an important part – not just on the pitch either, he was one of a number of newcomers who brought knowledge of what it takes to put together a successful promotion challenge at this level in the dressing room. Helguson has been released by the club having told them of his wish to return to his homeland – I’m sure he does so with the good wishes of all fans after his contribution this season 7.
Questions are being raised in some places as to whether our captain will be able to cope with the Premiership next season. We’ll only know the answer in a few months time I suppose, but, surely, what cannot be disputed is that Mark Hudson was right up there with the best in his position in the Championship in 12/13. Selection alongside Leicester’s Wes Morgan in the PFA team of the season confirmed what his fellow pros thought of him and there was also a fairly unanimous recognition from the media that he was the best around in the second tier – until this season, I’ve always said Hudson was good, but not as good as some of the other fine centrebacks we have had during the past decade, I reckon he’s done enough now to be ranked up there alongside Gabbidon, Johnson, Collins etc. 8 (8).
Scored at Macclesfield to add to the goal he got at Oxford last season and hitting the target twice in three senior appearances for your home town club is something to remember with pride, but it won’t get any better for Nat Jarvis following his release this week. Having been given a second pro deal a year ago, he was not offered a third one by the club and, to be honest, this news did not come as too much of a shock when you consider that, apart from at Newport where he was a regular in their side last season, none of his four loan moves to lower division sides could be termed a success. 5 (5)
Arguably the young player who has made the most progress at the club this season. Has been regarded as a very promising talent for some time, but had done little to justify such a tag in 11/12 in the Under 18 team. His switch from winger to left back at the start of this season certainly came as a surprise to me, but he went straight into the first team and performed creditably at Northampton in the League Cup. His consistently good displays for the Development side saw him chosen as an unused sub for the matches at Barnsley and Derby and he was one of a number of youngsters selected for the FA Cup match at Macclesfield. He was generally considered to be the best of the bunch as well, in fact many critics had him down the Cardiff man of the match that daywhen one of a number of fine attacking runs down the left saw him lay a goal on a plate for Nat Jarvis 6.
When Keinan wasn’t even in the group that flew to Switzerland for pre-season training it became obvious that, just as in 11/12, he would play no part in Malky Mackay’s plans – he was included for the League Cup match with Northampton, but, apart from that, it was games with the Developments side for the Israel international centreback before he signed for Maccabi Haifa in September 4 (4).
Having been under used in the eyes of many up until the last month of the season , the South Korean international made a big impact when finally given a regular starting place as he featured as part of a central midfield trio having been used mainly on the flanks up until then. “Kimbo” was voted Man of the Match on his first start (the 4-0 win over Burnley) and, generally seemed to save his best for televised matches as he netted his only two goals of the campaign at Blackburn and Blackpool, but when he was selected for the return game against the Ewood Park side he played a major part in a team display which saw far more urgency and quality than in recent games. Apart from a muted showing at Hull, Kimbo maintained those high standards for the rest of the season – one small quibble about him I have is that he doesn’t always maintain the fine starts he makes to games, but he certainly looks like someone who will have no problems coming to terms with the technical requirements of the Premiership 7.
Another to suffer through the increase in depth of quality at the club in 12/13. Saw some action in the closing stages of the season opener with Huddersfield, but that was it as far as league appearances went apart from when he replaced Kevin McNaughton in the nineteenth minute of the home game with Hull and then found himself withdrawn at half time for Joe Ralls. For the rest of the season Kiss was a regular in the Development team which meant that got a game in the FA Cup at Macclesfield where his performance did little to show that Malky Mackay was wrong to leave him out of the first team squad when it came to Championship action. Scored some important goals and offered some reminders of his talent for the Development side as the season went on, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be an over age player next season, so he looks a strong candidate for a loan move or, maybe, a permanent transfer – 4 (6).
Initially signed on loan from Norwich as cover for the injured Andrew Taylor, Lappin made the permanent move to Cardiff in January and has not played for the first team since. He had the dubious distinction of being the first City player to be sent off in over two years when he picked up a second yellow card on his debut in the win at Barnsley. He was also on the winning team at Birmingham on New Years Day in his only other game for us where his composed performance suggested that he could have done a useful job if had been got more chances – it’s hard to see him getting many of them next season 5.
Back in February 2012 whilst playing at Cardiff City Stadium for Peterborough, Joe Lewis let a Peter Whittingham corner go over his head and into the net to put us a goal up. He had no chance with the two goals which quickly followed and at 3-0 the match was as good as over by half time, but in a one sided second half, he defied City time and again with some great saves. Having seen Lewis perform in about six matches at different levels this season, I’d say that those ninety minutes against last season sum him up pretty well – not as commanding when the ball’s in the air as you expect someone of his height to be, but a very good shot stopper who has fine reflexes for a big man. In the two matches he played for the first team this season, he came through a searching aerial examination at Northampton fairly well and did little wrong at Macclesfield 6.
In my piece on Malky Mackay earlier this week I wrote about one of the roles of management being to improve the players they have – David Marshall is someone who it seems to me has definitely improved in the two seasons under our present manager. There were goals he conceded that he may feel he could have done better with (two at Charlton in particular spring to mind), but saves such as the one he made from Troy Deeney at Watford defined Marshall’s season – when the stakes were highest he could be depended on to deliver. Fully deserved his selection in front of Alan McGregor for Scotland’s last World Cup group match and with the likelihood of him being a first choice Premiership keeper next season, the chance is there for him to actually become Scotland’s number one – his form over the past two seasons makes him the best City keeper I’ve seen 9 (8).
Maybe his excellent first season at Cardiff had people expecting too much, but there has to be a sense of disappointment about Joe Mason’s 2012/13 campaign. That said, there were definitely times when I thought the situation was crying out for his cleverness and goalscoring instincts, but the tendency was for Malky Mackay to look elsewhere and, especially towards the end of the season as we found ourselves missing our top three strikers through injury, when he was given his chance, he was cast aside pretty quickly as our manager turned to Gestede. Time is definitely on Mason’s side though and his two goals against Blackburn in particular (the one at Ewood Park was as clinical an example of quality striker’s play as City managed all season) showed that he can cope with the step up in standards – maybe he won’t get too many chances to show that next season, but I would expect him to be featuring pretty regularly if we stay in the Premiership for two or three seasons 6 (8).
Two promising home performances after his £2.5 million signing from West Ham in which he played a prominent part in three of the five goals we scored was followed by the injury which looked to have ended his season seven months early. However, he was able to return for the last ten minutes or so of the campaign at Hull and he was centre stage in that incredible finish to the game as he coolly put away the penalty which could have ruined the party at the KC Stadium. Is he good enough for the Premiership? Sam Allardyce obviously didn’t think so, but Maynard has never had the chance to prove him and other doubters wrong – he should get it at Cardiff next season 6.
His reaction at the final whistle in the Charlton game said it all about why Kevin McNaughton has been such a fans favourite during his seven years at Cardiff and now he has the chance to extend it to nine with the two year contract extension he has been offered – I thought the best “Super Kev” could expect was half of that and, if I’m being honest, I watched the game at Hull expecting it to be his last for the club. Who knows, maybe those last seven matches starting with when he came on after just ten minutes at Watford to replace Matt Connolly may have been enough to convince Malky Mackay that McNaughton warranted another contract because he was certainly near to his best defensively in them, but, for the second consecutive season, he was never really convincing in the more advanced areas his current manager expects him to get into in home matches especially 6 (6).
Although he certainly had his supporters amongst the fanbase during his time at Cardiff, no recent player at the club has encapsulated the difference between the way the game is perceived by the pros and the enthusiastic amateurs more than Steve McPhail. Meida pundits were forever praising his his bravery on the ball and the way he’d always make himself available for his colleagues, but many fans were not convinced and never really took him to their hearts. His struggles against illness united the supporters in recent years and there was less “McFail” references than there were, but, the truth is that McPhail was never going to be the subject of arguments this season because he was just not being seen by the majority of fans. He was one of those who was restricted to just a couple of appearances in Cup ties in which he turned in okay performances in a losing cause – I’m sure he has a lot to offer still and I hope he finds a club where he can play regularly and prosper, that’s the least he deserves after all he’s been through lately 5 (5).
The first and last five weeks of the campaign were very good for the £1 million plus signing from Birmingham, but the bit in between was a frustrating period for player, club and supporters as a lingering nerve injury in his foot kept him sidelined for long spells. In fact, he only made four starts between the Millwall match in mid September and the game with Blackburn on April 1. After an inconsistent sequence over the Christmas Holiday period, there were times when Mutch was not even included on the bench and had to rely on Development team games to get some football. Once he got his chance against Blackburn though, he was instrumental, along with Kimbo, in providing the momentum from midfield that had been missing – does things other City midfield players can’t and, when you consider how young he is, he looks an excellent prospect who should get by in the Premiership if he can stay fit 7.
I’m afraid I struggle to come up with something new to say about the £1.5 million signing from Brighton, because, whenever he has a few games in the team he just proves he’s a “typical” winger – mercurial and brilliant one match and frustrating and over indulgent the next! Noone’s season was like a few players in that he was good in the autumn (make that superb in games like Wolves and Burnley) and pretty ordinary in the winter before recovering in the spring. One thing that surprised me about Noone was the number of goals he scored because there was nothing in his career record to indicate he’d score seven times (his goal against Bolton at home was a beauty) – I suppose there have to be questions as to whether he has the power to cope with the Premiership, but, if he has, I can see him causing problems at that level if the force is with him 7.
You only had to see the use Malky Mackay made of Ben Nugent in pre season matches to realise that he rated the lanky young centre half and when the team were hit by a defensive injury crisis in November, the manager didn’t hesitate in using him. Nugent made his league debut when he replaced Ben Turner early on in a top of the table clash with Middlesbrough and coped admirably in helping the team to a win and a clean sheet. A week later he marked an imposing first start at Barnsley with a goal as City ended a run of away defeats that were threatening to derail their season before playing a full part in a good 1-1 draw at Derby. An unfortunate own goal marred his next start, against Bristol City, but, again, he didn’t look out of place at all amongst his seniors – if subsequent performances weren’t quite as impressive as earlier ones, then they still weren’t poor by any means 7.
This versatile defender played every minute of every game of the season for the Development team and got his chance with the seniors in the two Cup ties they played. Struggled a little at Northampton in the League Cup, but was one of the better performers in the game at Macclesfield – another player who I’m sure could do a good job out on loan somewhere, but, as he still qualifies as an Under 21 player, I’d expect him to be a regular with us at that level again 5.
With City able to field a strong midfield combination in Development games, O’Sullivan’s chances at this level tended to come with substitute appearances and he was more often seen playing for the Under 18’s. His performance in the 6-1 win over Swansea at Cardiff City Stadium was probably the best I saw by a City player at that level during the season, but, like many of his team mates, he was somewhat inconsistent at times. Was used as a substitute for the senior team in the two Cup ties they played – had a decent late chance to force extra time at Northampton and, generally, didn’t do too badly, but he did find it quite hard physically – should be okay if he can fill out a bit because the ability is certainly there 4.
Rather like Joe Mason, Joe Ralls was unable to make the same impact in his second season as a first team squad member with Cardiff as he did in his first. Just as with Mason though, I don’t believe this was down to any decline in performance on his part – it had more to do with the introduction of two or three newcomers who improved the depth of quality in his specialist area. In fact, Ralls saw more Championship action as an emergency left back than he did in his favoured central midfield position as he filled in with distinction for the injured Andrew Taylor against Middlesbrough for an hour and then deputised for the suspended Simon Lappin at Derby. He also started both of the Cup ties the team played and captained the side in their Under 21’s Final with Charlton last week – I wouldn’t be surprised to see him loaned out next season 6 (7).
Started the League Cup tie with Northampton in his normal wing position, but was making an impact at right back for the Under 21’s when his contract with the club was terminated following his conviction on assault charges – was offered a way back into the game with AFC Wimbledon by his former Academy manager at Cardiff, Neil Ardley and scored a couple of important goals in their successful fight to retain their Football League status 4.
Made a very impressive start to his Cardiff career after arriving from QPR as his habit of taking the right option allied to his good all round technical game made him an important member of the team. However a hamstring injury against his first club Watford was a serious blow for player and team and, although he marked his first starting appearance at Blackpool after three months out with the winning goal as his fine volley (albeit with the aid of a deflection) finished off a rapid counter attack, he never really recaptured his early season form. He was one of those who lost his place in the reshuffle of personnel and tactics Malky Mackay decided on after the defeat at Peterborough – has previous Premiership experience which could prove useful, but he’ll be thirty three next week and his opportunities are likely to be limited 6.
Might well have been City’s most consistent player week in, week out. Whereas he had his defensive problems at times last season, it’s difficult to remember a winger getting the better of him this time around, while his two superb crosses for late equalisers in successive home matches with Derby and Leicester were testimony to the quality he can offer going forward. His influence within the team was recognised by Malky Mackay as he named Taylor as captain for a few matches towards the end of the campaign, but he blotted his copybook somewhat with his sending off at Hull which means he’ll miss the first game in the Premiership in August – I still believe that he will be the manager’s first choice at left back for the new season though (he deserves to be after the season he’s had) 8 (7).
I’m a Ben Turner fan – not just for the way he came to the fore at the business end of the season when some of his defensive colleagues succumbed to injury, but also for the fact that his views on the game are always interesting to hear when he appears in front of the media. As an example, his decision not to take up an offer to throw in his lot with Wales because he had always thought of himself as being English could have put him in a very awkward position with City fans, but I think I’m right in saying that very few could find fault with what he had to say on the matter once he got the chance to explain his decision. On the field it was another good season for a player whose habit of performing on the big occasion is something that we could have done with more of in others over the past four years or so – could do with upping his passing game a bit, but he has a decent turn of pace for such a big man and his sound all round defensive game gives him every chance of being able to cope in the Premiership 8 (7).
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a City player who has engendered as much messageboard debate on so little evidence of his playing ability! Let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of people who were calling for his inclusion in the squad in for most of the season had not seen Velikonja play in the flesh. I had the advantage of having seen him score during a decent second half showing in the pre season friendly with Newcastle and then saw him get plenty of goals for the Development side in their home games – initially I was on Malky Mackay’s side in thinking that he wasn’t ready for first team football, but the finishing ability he continually showed for the Under 21’s had me thinking he could do a job as a substitute if we needed a goal. In fairness, he did little to suggest that our manager was wrong in his assessment during his all too rare first team opportunities – although I did feel he was thrown to the lions (sorry tigers!) somewhat at Hull when he was left to cope by himself up front 4.
Wharton nearly always impresses me when I watch him play. He has great stamina, very good close skills, passes the ball well and in last week in the Development Team Final showed a tenacity and technique in his tackling which came as something of a pleasant surprise to me – maybe he could score more goals, but it’s hard to see too many others weaknesses in his game. As the season developed, he spent less time in the Under 18 side where it seemed to me he had little left to prove, but with Ralls, Kiss, McPhail and Harris all being available for the Under 21’s, he found it hard to force his way into that team until the closing weeks of the campaign. His only senior team involvement came in the last twenty minutes of the FA Cup game at Macclesfield and he made little impact in a side that conceded twice late on to lose the game 4 (5).
One of the very few negative aspects of a great season was that the player who had been the talisman of the team for so long was not there to play a part in it’s closing stages, but the decision to finally leave Peter Whittingham out of the team after he had been, first, moved back into his old wide midfield position was completely vindicated as Gunnarsson, Kimbo and Mutch gave us an authority in the middle of the park that we had been lacking for weeks. Whittingham was given a huge work load last season by Malky Mackay and he was struggling by it’s end, but this time around, his game started to decline before the turn of the year when the glorious hat trick against Wolves and the brilliant free kicks and corners that were responsible for so many goals were becoming distant memories. His selection in the PFA Championship team of the season proved the season wasn’t a disaster for Whittingham, but that old line about form being temporary and class permanent is going to be put to an interesting test next season 6 (9).