Cardiff City travel to Sheffield United on Monday evening, looking for a ninth successive victory that would equal the club record. Josh Thomas considers the impact of Junior Hoilett on that promotion-chasing run of form.
As we head into the last month of the season Cardiff City are seven points ahead of their nearest rivals thanks to their gutsy displays this season and the resurgent in form of Junior Hoilett, who has been a key factor in the Bluebirds’ promotion push to reach the Premier League.
However last season was a different story…
I was at the John Smith’s Stadium to see the Bluebirds take on Huddersfield Town. Midway through the second-half, Kenneth Zohore was on the ball with three players around him, passed it onto the on-running Hoilett and with the goal gaping Cardiff were certain to put the game out of reach of Premiership challengers. But Hoilett sent the ball sailing over the bar to leave the crowd groaning with disappointment and disbelief.
In the corresponding fixture the Canadian intentional had scored his first goal for Cardiff City since becoming a Bluebirds player as a free agent in October 2016, becoming Neil Warnock’s first signing at the club. He had played in Warnock’s first game in the Welsh side’s victory in the Sevenside derby against Bristol City.
“I’m delighted to have him here with us at Cardiff City and I know that he’ll respond to the fans and me,” Warnock said at the time. “What’s more, he’s a player who will help bring the best out of those around him.”
However, this season has seen a massive improvement and a remarkable rise in Hoilett’s form. He has become the club’s top goalscorer with eight goals and has made 10 assists, compared to his two goals and four assists last season.
But why is it this season that we are seeing the best of him? He says it’s all down to fitness and coming into the new season settled with the Welsh club.
“Last season was difficult, coming into a brand-new environment without being fully fit. This year I’m comfortable with the team and the surroundings for me. I came in with a good pre-season, with games under my belt and being fit, so I’m sure that helped a lot.”
His story started within a sporting family, born to parents from Jamaica. Hoilett grew up in Brampton, Canada with younger brother Jaineil, who represented Canada in the 2009 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship in Mexico.
When Hoilett was 13 he joined Blackburn Rovers and became part of the youth set up, but as he wasn’t able to obtain a work permit he was loaned to German clubs SC Paderborn and FC St. Pauli. By the summer of 2009 Blackburn Rovers were successful in their appeal to get the young Canadian a work permit.
It was also during that summer Hoilett scored his first goal for Blackburn. Manager Sam Allardyce was thrilled with his new-found talent.
“We have an exciting young lad in Junior,” said Allardyce. “He played at Gillingham (and scored in Tuesday’s 3-1 Carling Cup victory) and there is a bright future for him coming I think.”
Hoilett went on to have a successful few years with Rovers and was named in FIFA’s 13 to watch in 2012 when he was dubbed as “one of the division’s hottest prospects.” But that same year his team were relegated to the Championship and he went onto sign for Queens Park Rangers where he played under Mark Hughes, who he had known from his early days with Rovers.
“Junior is a player I know very well. He was just a young boy trying to make his way in the game when I had him at Blackburn.” said Hughes.
“We knew then he was going to have a great future and he’s shown he’s a player of top quality and a player that can makes things happen, both on his own and as a team player.”
“He’s certainly a player who will enhance what we’ve got in the group and I am delighted he’s chosen to come to us.”
During his short time with Rangers, Hoilett played a massive part in helping them achieve promotion – supplying the crosses for Bobby Zamora to plunder the goals.
Sadly, their stay was only a short one and Rangers were back in the Championship after one season. His time with the Hoops was over when he left at the end of the 2016/17 season.
But after signing for City, Hoilett has truly found his form again and looks likely to be a key component of a team given little chance of promotion at the start of the season. He was named as one of the top 10 players of the season so far in the Championship and says there is one way to go.
“We’re looking up. We know we’ve been in good form recently and we need to be positive and look up. Looking down is negative. We need to fight and work hard in training and listen to what the gaffer tells us and hopefully then we can get the results.”
With eight games still to go, anything can happen between now and the end of the season. But one thing is for certain – the Bluebirds certainly have a gem on their hands in Hoilett and his experience will be invaluable between now and the end of the season.
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