Football League Expert & Columnist
Peter Beagrie says Crystal Palace and Cardiff deserve their place in the Carling Cup spotlight.
Last Updated: 06/01/12 12:57pm
To see Cardiff and Crystal Palace in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup is great for their supporters - but it's also great for the Football League as a whole.
One of these two Championship teams will appear in a major cup final and deservedly so. It's great to remind people that there's life beyond the Premier League and both sets of fans will be dreaming of a trip to Wembley on Sunday February 26.
But which of them will it be?
Looking at the league table, the obvious favourites are Cardiff. The Bluebirds are currently third in the Championship and are serious contenders for an automatic promotion spot this season.
They have only lost one of their last 15 games in all competitions - and that was against in-form Middlesbrough last month - and they look like the genuine article. Their win over Blackburn in the quarter-final of the Carling Cup was fantastic and you wouldn't have known which was the Premier League side in that game.
An enormous amount of credit has to go to Malky Mackay, who has had to cope with the loss of some phenomenal attacking talent this season - Craig Bellamy, Chris Burke, Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra have all left the club, yet they've not been missed.
His side are the third highest scorers in the division behind Southampton and Peterborough with the experience of Kenny Miller and the youth of Joe Mason getting among the goals of late.
But in my opinion their star man, once again, has been Peter Whittingham. The former Aston Villa player has been playing in more of a central role and has taken on more responsibility this season.
We've always known that he possesses great ability from set plays and can deliver balls from the flanks, but this year we have witnessed his talents as a goalscoring midfielder, arriving late in the box to get on the end of chances. His ball striking seems effortless and he has a great range of passing in the centre of the park.
Promotion rivals West Ham have been linked with a £3million move for him in the January transfer window and Cardiff's hopes in both league and cup may rely on their ability to hang on to him. The manager has already slapped a 'not for sale' sign on his head.
As for Crystal Palace, they reached the semis following a famous victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, a display that filled their 5,000 travelling supporters with immense pride.
The club were among the favourites for relegation at the start of the season, but club legend Dougie Freedman has put his faith in youth and has been rewarded with some exuberant displays, not least that victory against the champions.
They have exciting talents such as Wilfried Zaha and the often spectacular goalscoring efforts of Darren Ambrose, but their success has been built on some solid and dependable performers. Stuart O'Keefe in midfield is full of energy, enthusiasm and athleticism for example.
The back four has been solid, especially at Selhurst Park where they boast the meanest home defence in the Championship. I particularly admire the full-backs Dean Moxey and Nathaniel Clyne, who are strong in possession and do their defensive duties very well.
I'm sure plenty of Premier League scouts have their eyes on Palace's young talents and I hope the starlets such as Clyne and Zaha continue their footballing education under Freedman, at least until the end of this season.
This is a difficult game to call and a lot will depend on the first leg. If Cardiff can steal a goal at Fortress Selhurst then they will be favourites, but you cannot write off this Palace side, especially after watching that win at Old Trafford.
Whoever goes through will be a credit to the Carling Cup Final.
Live on Sky Sports
Wycombe v Huddersfield
7.30pm, Fri, Sky Sports HD1
Our live Football League game this week sees Wycombe taking on Huddersfield on Friday night - and you must look out for a fascinating match-up in that one.
Wanderers have taken the exciting Marcello Trotta on loan from Fulham and so far the young Italian has shown he doesn't lack self-confidence. He's prepared to shoot from anywhere and scored five goals in December, which included a hat-trick in the 3-1 win against Exeter.
He has demonstrated to the Wycombe faithful what an instinctive finisher he is!
However, he will be up against League One's hottest star in Jordan Rhodes, who went one better on both accounts in December , scoring six goals for the month and bagging a hat-trick+1 - yes, he scored four goals in an incredible 4-4 draw at Sheffield Wednesday.
Plenty of sides in the Championship and Premier League have been looking at him and for Terriers fans - and manager Lee Clark - the end of the transfer window can't come quickly enough!
Championship Player of the Month
Nominees: Alex Pearce (Reading), Nicky Bailey (Middlesbrough), Ricardo Vaz Te (Barnsley), Kieran Trippier (Burnley)
PETER SAYS: I'd like to mention Ricardo Vaz Te, who had an outstanding month with seven goals including a hat-trick against Leeds and a nine-second opener against Palace. He has formed a dynamic partnership with former Chesterfield hitman Craig Davies. However, the panel have gone for Reading youngster Alex Pearce, who has more than repaid his manager's faith in him. Some magnificently mature performances in the month of December have justified the £5million sale of former captain Matt Mills. He's been a colossus in both boxes!
Winner: ALEX PEARCE
League One Player of the Month
Nominees: Marcello Trotta (Wycombe), Neill Collins (Sheffield United), Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield), Michael Bostwick (Stevenage)
PETER SAYS: As I mentioned above, Marcello Trotta has had a tremendous month, but he was outdone by Huddersfield star Jordan Rhodes, who has gone past the "promise and potential" stage as quick as he did the 20 goal mark. He's definitely the genuine article and this was another goal-glut month for Jordan, including a four goal salvo against Sheffield Wednesday. It's no wonder West Ham and Everton have had advances for his serviced rebuffed!
Winner: JORDAN RHODES
League Two Player of the Month
Nominees: Bryan Hughes (Accrington Stanley), Jose Veiga (Macclesfield Town), Luke Oliver (Bradford City), Matt Tubbs (Crawley Town)
PETER SAYS: Bryan Hughes might be 35 years old, but he has played a pivotal part in Stanley's recent resurgence, using the ball intelligently and dictating play for the middle of midfield. He scored two goals in an unbeaten month for Stanley and Accrington haven't lost any of the eight League Two games in which he has played, winning six of them. He has proved to be a great signing for John Coleman.
Winner: BRYAN HUGHES