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Heaton: A cup run is crucial to me
THE League Cup will never be the poor relation in Tom Heaton's eyes, not when the competition provided him with his current career highlight.
The goalkeeper was struggling to oust David Marshall from the number one spot during Cardiff’s 2011/12 season.
But in the cup he found solace, and a successful run to the final to face Liverpool at Wembley.
“It’s a fantastic competition, and one that I needed in terms of me not playing in the league,” explained the 27-year-old, who played in all bar one round that year.
“The league was frustrating for me, I was desperate to be playing in that, and this just gave me an opportunity to perform and play some games and to go as far as we can and of course we ended up in the final and a penalty shoot-out.
“It was brilliant.”
Although the Bluebirds ended up with runners-up medals after going all the way to a penalty shoot-out, Heaton added: “I can’t talk highly enough of my experience.
“It was such a good journey through to the final, and obviously the final was a brilliant day. It was certainly my best experience in football, the pinnacle of my career. I’m obviously hoping to peak that at some point but so far it’s certainly been the best part of it.”
Similarities between the Bluebirds then and Burnley now have registered with the stopper.
A pattern has emerged with the early cup fixtures too.
Cardiff were drawn away to League Two opposition in 2011. Two years on so were Burnley, winning at York City.
They hosted a League One side in the next round, as did the Clarets, who beat Preston at Turf Moor.
Championship opposition awaited them in the third round, with Cardiff drawn at home to Burnley, whose cup run came to a disappointing end that night while Mackay’s men marched on.
With league rivals Nottingham Forest standing in the way of the Clarets and the fourth round now, Heaton will hope personal history can repeat itself.
“I look at this cup with fond memories, and I see similarities to the year I got to the final,” he said.
“The manager kept the team more or less the same.
“A lot of teams I’ve been in change the team - almost changing all 11 players. Everyone makes their own choices - depending on the size of squad and players you got that can always be a factor.
“But I’ve found that the most successful way to do it is to keep a similar sort of side, maybe one, two, three of four changes.
“The year we got to the final we almost kept the same team all the way through.
“There were one or two changes, and obviously I was one of them because I didn’t play in the league very much. It builds momentum.
“I think there’s too much rotation of squads these days. I understand there’s a fatigue factor the more games you play –especially when a team’s in the Champions League the higher up you go. But I think it’s almost underestimated that togetherness that a team gets and an understanding.
“I think that’s been a factor for us. Everyone gets to know each other and playing with each other, it makes such a big difference.”
Summer signing Heaton, who missed the last round against Preston through suspension, added: “There is that consistent element to it. Whether it’s a league game or cup game it’s almost irrelevant, we’re going out to win the game. You can’t really underestimate that.
“On top of that there are a lot of things that you see that are similar - the players’ attitudes, the squad’s attitude and that aptitude for going as far as you can.
“There are no bad eggs in there, everyone’s together and there is that unified feeling.
“There’s a great atmosphere around the place, and you can see from previous rounds how highly the competition’s held in regards the club, and that’s down to the manager. That’s where the tone’s set and as players we’re following suit. There’ll be no relaxing or foot off the gas. We’ll be 100 per cent looking to get to the next round.
“That’s one of the things that will take you a long way and I can see an awful lot of similarities.
“Even when things aren’t going so well Cardiff that year were tough to play against. If they didn’t play well the other team still had to do an awful lot to get a result out of the game, and that’s what’s happening here.
“If we have a 20-minute spell where we don’t pass it as well as we have done, we’re tough to break down, and that’s a good thing to have as a football team.”
Although Liverpool ultimately triumphed in the Wembley final shoot-out, a highlight for Heaton was his save from Steven Gerrard.
He insists he will be ready if the tie is settled on spot-kicks tonight, despite revealing he does not put too much emphasis on practising penalties.
“I have a philosophy that I use, that I don’t share.
“So I try not to practice too much because I don’t like giving it away to anyone, whether they’re on my team or not,” he said.
“You take a little bit of information, you make a judgement and then you go with it.
“It’s about putting the variables together, making a decision and committing to it.
“But I usually take the feel of it on the game. This day and age I think a lot of centre forwards know people do their homework and take that into account as well.”
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