Date: 30th September 2009 at 9:57am
Written by:

Michael Chopra will understandably grab all the headlines today following his 4 goal contribution to last night`s superb 6-1 win over Derby County. The striker finished clinically and tore the Rams to shreds with his running and trickery. However, there was another memorable and possibly more significant performance on the night from a slightly more un-expected source.

Irishman Stephen McPhail return to the starting line-up following a 3 match ban for violent conduct. He took over from Joe Ledley, also suspended last night following a red card against Sheffield Wednesday and so resumed his partnership in midfield with Gavin Rae. The duo have played together numerous times, but have failed to establish a dominant alliance and have been regularly criticised in the past. McPhail himself was a bit part player last season after twice being sent off against rivals Swansea City and failing to re-gain his place.

Historically, McPhail has been known as a creative player and an accurate passing midfielder. However, over the past few seasons, Bluebirds fans have been frustrated by a lack of ambition, backwards distribution and inability to track back. That was certainly not the case last night as Stephen McPhail put in a very good all round performance and contributed heavily to the win.

McPhail`s initial contributions were in defence as he tackled, blocked and slid his way around the pitch to dis-possess Derby. While he has a tendency to mis-time such tackles or rush in hot-headedly, last night he was cool, committed and showed perfect timing. In possession, he grew and began to force the tempo bringing Whittingham and Burke into the game. He did use the outlet of Gerrard and Hudson at the back, but these were rare and at the right time when little else was on.

McPhail then put Bothroyd through for the opening goal. That was to be followed by a double assist for Chopra with two excellent passes, and finding Chris Burke on the right as the winger cut inside and scored the fifth. AS a midfield contribution, it was impressive all round and while we showed defensive frailties – that could hardly be attributed to the midfield for once.

Joe Ledley is back on Saturday, and may only make the bench. However, after this performance McPhail deserves his place while Whittingham has two goals and an excellent assist in two games. Gavin Rae may therefore be the one to drop out. Stephen McPhail has come in for strong criticism in recent times – however, last night he produced his best for some time and deserves the initial credit. If he can carry this form forward, and maintain it over a run of games – then Cardiff City will be much stronger for it.