VFTN recently caught up with Anthony Pilkington, a favourite of ours, to chat all things Cardiff. He had a rough ride in the last few years, but was a good servant and we were sad, and a bit relieved, to see him depart for Wigan last month.
You were signed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the year after Cardiff were relegated to the Premier League. How were the club sold to you and what did Solskjaer see as your role in the side?
At the time, I wasn’t involved at Norwich, so I was looking to move and get a fresh start somewhere. When Cardiff phoned up and told me about their plans and I spoke to the manager, it was an easy decision to make. Obviously, he didn’t last too much longer, only two or three more weeks, so I was still settling in. It was disappointing, but these things happen in football. It was a difficult period for the club, having been relegated and not making the best of starts.
Solskjaer left soon after you arrived. He’s the man of the moment at Manchester United, but was a failure at Cardiff. How did you find working with him in that brief period?
As everyone knows, he’s a really nice guy and he’s doing really well at Manchester United now where he’s been a breath of fresh air. Hopefully he gets the job there because he deserves it.
Russell Slade replaced him and was a surprise appointment. What were your first impressions of him and what changed when he arrived?
Not a lot really. We had a really good squad, coming down from the Premier League and going in to the Championship. Ole had also brought in some fresh faces, like Sean Morrison, Bruno Manga and myself. Then Russell came in and Trolls (Paul Trollope) soon after. Before that, Danny Gabbidon and Scott Young had done a little bit.
It was just a change of face really, we just picked up a few decent results and started building on that. Wins breed confidence. He didn’t want us to lose games and made us a bit more solid, put his ideas across, the way he wanted us to play; a kind of lop-sided 4-4-2 with Whitts tucking in and Scotty Malone or Fabio going up and down the left. He put his own twist on things and a few wins gave the boys a bit of confidence.
Cardiff sold a lot of strikers and you were moved up front, due to necessity more than anything else. It was a position you thrived in. Had you played there before and how does it compare to playing on the wing? Which do you prefer?
Russell had to try and get a few off the wage bill and strikers are probably the most in demand players. Joe Mason and Kenwyne Jones were doing well at the time. He didn’t bring anyone else in, so popped me up front for a few games and I did quite well, scoring a few goals. I enjoyed it, I really like playing up front. You’re always involved and always on the move, you don’t have to wait for the game to come to you. I played there a little bit before, when I was a bit younger.
Russell Slade was eventually replaced by Paul Trollope. How did you find working with Paul and what do you think went wrong when he was in charge?
Trolls was already there, but he came in and changed the formation around and we played some really good stuff in pre-season. A few things didn’t go our way at the beginning of the season and things started going downhill in terms of results and then the fans started to lose confidence. It was disappointing because I know Trolls quite well, having played with him at Norwich. He’s a really good coach and doing really well at Brighton.
Was it strange having him take over after being Russell’s assistant?
It was a little bit strange when he took over. We were used to Trolls being the assistant, but that’s not the reason why it didn’t work. Like I said, there were a few things that could have gone our way and didn’t. Having not been a manager for quite a while, I think people lost confidence in him quite quickly and we found ourselves near the bottom of the league. We should have been nowhere near with the squad we had.
Neil Warnock soon replaced Trollope and the rest is history. What were your first impressions of him and what did he change?
He came in with Blacky (Kevin Blackwell) and Jeppo (Ronnie Jepson). They wanted to turn us in to a real high intensity team, get around the pitch closing people down, playing in the opposition half and getting the ball forward quickly. We did a lot of work when he first came in and started moving up the table. We did well in the first year and all know what happened in the second.
You only played a bit-part in Cardiff’s promotion season, but scored a vital equaliser at Sheffield United. What are your memories of that time?
When the gaffer first came in, I scored quite a lot of goals, then I picked up an injury and never got back in. The season after, I was left out of a lot of squad’s but got back in over the Christmas and scored a few more goals. That goal at Sheffield United was in a big match when we were not playing so well and it kept us in a good position for promotion.
Having not played as much as I’m sure you would have liked, were you able to enjoy that season and the celebrations at the end?
It was tough, the first three or four months when I wasn’t really involved. I would have liked to have started more games because whenever I was playing I was getting goals. I thought I should have started more, but it’s one of those things where the manager has other ideas. All you can do is work hard in training and be ready when you’re called upon. I like to think I was.
The boys that played obviously did really well and that’s why we got promoted because we had a really good squad. I felt involved because I had been at Cardiff for quite a while, seen players come and go. I was also involved in the last few months, coming on and playing here and there. I’ve got a lot of friends in the squad as well, so if you can’t celebrate something like that, there’s something wrong with you.
In the summer, like Lee Tomlin, you were omitted from the 25 man squad for the season and therefore unable to play first-team football until January. What is that like for a footballer; training with no chance of playing? Was it hard to stay motivated?
It was really tough because I had got myself back involved and had helped get the club promoted. I worked really hard getting myself fit and strong, but when we came back in the off season, me and Lee were told we wouldn’t be travelling with the first team, we would be going with the Under-23’s to Cornwall instead. That was a kick in the teeth really, I didn’t think I deserved that, but the manager has to make those decisions.
There’s no point dwelling on the past though, you just have to keep working hard and wait for an opportunity somewhere else. It was hard because we didn’t play any Under-23 games this season either because the manager wanted other players to get more minutes instead, so I was just turning up for training with no games to look forward to, but I was hopeful that something would come up in January.
Last month, you joined Wigan and it was great to see you make an immediate impact, with a very fancy assist on your debut. How did that move come about and how are you finding things there? It must be great to be back playing
There were other clubs interested as well, but I spoke to Wigan and it felt like a good fit. I’m really enjoying it and hopefully we can get a few more wins and start moving up the table. Having not played for so long, it’s just a relief to be back involved in football again. Turning up for training with a purpose again and the excitement for games at the weekend. It’s been brilliant. I would have liked my fitness to have been a bit better, but that’s impossible without playing games.
Looking back on your time at Cardiff, do you reflect fondly? What is your favourite memory of your time with the club?
I think the Bristol City game at Ashton Gate was a good day. We were 2-1 down and won 3-2 in the end. I scored a late winner and that was definitely a highlight. I was there for quite a long time and played quite a few games, but like anything in life, there’s good times and bad times. Helping the club get promoted and spending that day with the fans was brilliant. It’s a big club with great fans and really good people working at the club. It’s something I’ll always remember.