By John Lyons
NEIL Warnock made Junior Hoilett his first signing when he joined Cardiff City – and now the winger wants to repay his faith by landing him a record-breaking promotion.
When Warnock pitched up at Cardiff in October last year, promotion wasn’t on anybody’s agenda.
The Bluebirds were in the relegation zone, and securing their second-tier status was the priority.
The veteran boss had worked with Hoilett at QPR and took advantage of the fact the Canadian was a free agent, having left the R’s that summer.
It worked out well for both of them as Cardiff surged clear of trouble and eventually finished a comfortable 12th. If that was the starter, then this season has been the main course.
While Wolves have blazed a trail at the top, the Bluebirds have been the ones who have stuck closest to their tail. It means Warnock has a chance of fulfilling his ambition of landing a record-breaking eighth promotion.
And former Blackburn wide man Hoilett reckons the evergreen 69-year-old will fully deserve it if he can turn Cardiff from relegation strugglers to glory boys in such a short space of time.
“He’s a great manager to work under and a great guy,” said Hoilett, who, pre-weekend, had chipped in with six goals. “He puts confidence in the players and knows how to get the best out of them. Players want to play for him.
“He knows the league inside out and is under-rated. He knows how to get the results needed, and promotion would be a story-book finish.”
The 27-year-old believes the way Cardiff came back from 2-0 down to salvage a point at Reading in the closing stages on Monday night (see p43) bodes well for their prospects.
“We have a never-say-die attitude, and the way we came out in the second half showed that,” he explained. “We have a lot of injuries at the moment, but the players coming off the bench are helping out.
“It shows that everyone has respect for each other and the squad is prepared to fight to the end.”
And that’s just as well, because Hoilett knows how cut-throat the Championship can be.
“Any team can turn over any team – that’s how the league is,” he said. “Every game you have to go in with a gameplan and be ready for it.
“I have confidence that, as a team we can go out and get the results. We believe we can compete against any team.”
Hoilett has spent time in the Premier League with both Blackburn and QPR. He has experience of what it’s like at English football’s top table. And the Canadian international would love another shot at the big-time.
“Everyone wants to play in the Premier League,” he said. “That’s our goal for the season and, hopefully, we can get there. It’s a massive club and we are working hard to get there. We’ve made a good start to the season, but we still have a long way to go.”
Hoilett believes the Welsh club will have a better idea of their chances this term once the busy festive period is done and dusted.
Cardiff travel to Bolton on Saturday, host Fulham on Boxing Day and Preston on December 29, and then visit Warnock’s and Hoilett’s old club, QPR, on New Year’s Day. An FA Cup third round tie at home to League Two Mansfield follows on January 6.
“This is the hardest part of the season,” said Hoilett, “but if we get through this, we’ll be fine in the business end. If we go up, we have the right people to maintain the club there and push on.”
After what they’ve achieved over the last year or so, few would bet against them.