The Championship is guaranteed a representative in next month’s Carling Cup Final as Cardiff City and Crystal Palace go head-to-head in tonight’s semi-final second leg in front of the BBC cameras. The south Londoners have a one goal advantage going into the game at the Cardiff City Stadium, and Palace fan Norman Quarrinton believes their defence has been instrumental in the turnaround in the Eagles form this season.
Moore, Maldini, Nesta, Carlos, Beckenbauer, Gardner, McCarthy. The final two of the aforementioned players probably don’t belong on that list - or do they?
Well no, they don’t. However, there’s still time, but for now the answer is unfortunately no. But for Palace fans with a keen eye for defensive ability, there’s definitely cause for excitement.
The Eagles go into tonight’s second leg against Cardiff City knowing a clean sheet will be enough to see them through to Wembley, and its their strength at the back that has been key to a cup run that included a win at Old Trafford, and their league form.
There’s nothing wrong with placing your team’s players on high pedestals, despite what they haven’t achieved. This season, however, the Palace defenders deserve all the praise that’s heaped upon them. The statistics speak for themselves; only three other Championship clubs have conceded less goals than the Eagles so far this season which is nothing to be scoffed at.
It is the first time in a long time that Palace have had a squad with real depth. If you asked a group of Eagles fans to pick a starting XI, very few would select the same 11 players. There’s competition for places, but nobody’s complaining about being left on the bench. Squad depth and squad harmony is a winning combination.
However, there are four players that would almost certainly be on every fan’s chosen XI: Julian Speroni, Anthony Gardner, Nathaniel Clyne and captain Paddy McCarthy.
What can be written about goalkeeper Julian Speroni that hasn’t already been written? The Argentine has been in excellent form for the past five seasons, and we’re all aware of his ability. Personally, I’m in awe of it.
The same goes for Nathaniel Clyne. The ‘next big thing’ has had a few Premier League clubs sniffing around lately, and for good reason. He’s easily one of the most exciting young right backs in the country.
But I want to focus on the (slightly) unsung heroes of Palace’s season; McCarthy and Gardner.
Anthony Gardner, the classic towering centre back has been a bit of a revelation. After spending several seasons on the proverbial scrap heap at Spurs, he signed for Hull in 2008, where he spent a fairly average couple of seasons.
In 2010 the out-of-contract defender signed for Palace and Hull’s loss was Palace’s gain…eventually
It’s clear to see that Gardner’s settled in well at the club, despite a few sloppy performances early on in his Palace career. Combine his excellent defensive displays this season with the first-leg goal against Cardiff that could send the club to Wembley, and he’s more than proved himself worthy of the number 6 jersey.
What about number 5?
Ah, Paddy. Remember his ‘Goal of the Season’ against Derby in 08? That seems like ages ago, probably because of how far Palace, as a football club, have come since those days of uncertainty.
(Speaking of Goal of Season, after Darren Ambrose’s strike at Old Trafford is there any point in doing it this year?)
Despite a few injury problems, McCarthy has developed into a commanding captain, something we were in desperate need of during the post-Warnock ‘exodus’.
The odd misplaced pass here and there is a small price to pay for someone who, at 28 years old, probably still has his best days ahead of him.
It’s definitely too late to be saying things like “I’ve got a really good feeling about this season.” This is a shame, because nobody was saying it pre-season, for obvious reasons.
Straw clutching aside, all season the lads have been brilliant defensively, and it’s largely down to McCarthy and Gardner.
I’ll end with some optimism: If Palace can keep their defensive dominance going they’ll make Wembley, and maybe even the play-offs.
Tags: Anthony Gardner, Cardiff City, Carling Cup, Crystal Palace, Darren Ambrose, Manchester United, Old Trafford, Paddy McCarthy