It was great to see a spirited display from Cardiff last Sunday against Arsenal and even better to see them make a few chances. I liked what Warnock said after the game that the game plan was never going to be to sit back and try and soak up the pressure – they were going to play and be a bit more expansive. And it worked.
It happened against Manchester City back in 2013, and it happened a bit on Sunday. You need to get the oppositions back up and the early pressure on Cech and the goal at half time did that. The boys set their stall out to try and win the game and they almost did it. They stayed competitive in the game for as long as possible, which was vital.
I always think that with these games, you should never sit back. The games against teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, are always going to be bonus games. There are cup finals to be had against Huddersfield, Brighton and the rest, but the big teams are always going to be bonus games. People said it was a good time to play Arsenal, but that seems to forget the fact they are still Arsenal. They’ve still got class all over the pitch.
I actually made my Premier League debut against Arsenal and I’m pretty sure it was the beginning of the hip problems I’m having now. I was up against Santi Cazorla and he’s so two-footed that I had no idea which way to send him. They had to unscrew my boot from the turf at the end of the game! I actually watched a video of Santi’s best moments from his career and I was honoured to pop up for a few seconds, so I guess that’s my legacy.
It’s the final third where you really notice the difference between Championship and Premier League. The pace, the movement – it’s incredible. Arsenal were so clinical against Cardiff. Etheridge had no chance with Lacazette’s winner. After I played at the Emirates years back, I had to take a couple of paracetamol after the game. I was so sore from being spun every which way!
Four games into the season, I think Cardiff will be a bit disappointed with where they are. The goals against Arsenal will give them a wee lift as the lack of goals can play on people’s minds. Some of the best players I’ve played with can get a bit bogged down if they don’t score for a couple of games.
The step up can be a big change for players and I think there are definitely signs that some players are taking longer to adjust. One of my tips to really kick-on at this level was Big Ken, but it’s perhaps taken him a couple of extra games to get going than he would have liked. He’s obviously got quality, so that will come, but Ward showed on Sunday that he’s a great deputy and perhaps you have to go with form in the next game.
Same at the back – they were colossal last season, so I think they are just getting to grips with the pace of the Premier League. Warnock is a confidence manager, he’ll be putting an arm around the shoulders of those players who are struggling and will get them back to their best.
I celebrated my birthday last week and you’ll be surprised to know I’m far younger than my hair gives away. Birthdays are, as you might be surprised, a chance for players to rip on each other. When I was at Aberdeen, if it was your birthday you had to bring a cake, a bottle of champagne, and some strawberries. It was never really explained why, it was just the tradition. The bottle of champagne would get drunk and then signed by the squad before being given to the kitman. It was mad, the kitmans room was full of about 40,000 empty bottles of champagne – I just assumed he took everyone’s man of the match awards!
If your cake wasn’t good enough, you’d get some kind of abuse. Mainly people’s gear took the brunt of it. A few times, players got their shoes glued to the ceiling. One year, a lad got his brand new clothes hung over the goalposts. None of us realised that the posts had just been painted, so his new clothes came down with thick white marks all over them.
Some of the pranks would border on the extreme. We had a lad at Aberdeen who was incredibly OCD and would line up his clothes in a particular way. All week, we would move his clothes a little bit here, move his shoes there. Every time he got back to his locker, he had to move another thing back, re-align his shoes. He didn’t quite lose it, but you could see it was getting to him. He was getting more annoyed and muttering to himself.
The stuff that happens in the locker rooms can go a bit far though. We had a player who would often sleep between sessions in the treatment room. There was one day when we lifted up the bench he was sleeping on and quietly moved him to the showers. Then switched them on. He was so angry, he was swinging for anyone he could see.
I’m actually back playing football for a local junior side now. We won 3-2 at the weekend in the cup – but my hips are back to giving me jip. I’m also on an intensive training course this week, working towards my B-Licence, alongside helping out at Dundee Under-16s.
I actually started on the coaching qualification a few years ago when I was at Inverness, but I’ve had to start again. We have a week now during the international break as there’s a few lads who are doing it alongside their playing careers. It’s a good laugh. I drove up there and got involved in a session right away, forgetting just how stiff I get after driving. I think I have a certain Spanish footballer to blame for my hip troubles…