The 16th of May, 2009. Middlesbrough Football Club have all but brought to an end an 11 season stay in English football’s top division. The parachute payments look set to begin. The club’s stars start looking for top-flight alternatives. The Championship beckons.
Sitting in a despondent dressing room after a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa left the club needing a final day miracle is Andrew Taylor; 23 years old and already having to come to terms with the demise of a club at the heart of his local community.
Fast forward 4 years and that same Andrew Taylor is back in the big time, this time as an integral part of Cardiff City’s first foray into Europe’s richest league.
Much has changed for the man from Hartlepool but that memory of top-flight relegation has stayed at the forefront of his mind, acting as a daily motivation to not see it repeated.
But a run of 2 points in their last five outings has brought the Bluebirds closer to the bottom of the table than they would like to be – so lessons learnt act as valuable experience for Taylor as a side used to winning get used to life at the other end of a division:
“I think the main thing is to keep your focus and just keep the confidence. Certainly the year that we got relegated at Middlesboro was hard for the lads and hard on the community and the fans but the biggest thing for me through that experience was trying to keep the confidence, personally, and within the group because a couple of wins in a season and all of a sudden the league table is turned round.
“[It’s about] sticking together as a group of players, the fans everybody. We’re all in it for the same thing. We all want the same outcome and that’s to stay in the Premier League.
"If we can all stay together hopefully we can achieve that."
Those hopes took their first major knock of the season last weekend though as Malky Mackay’s side limped to a less than impressive 2-0 defeat to fellow promotion winners Crystal Palace, thanks to goals from former Bluebird Cameron Jerome and Marouane Chamak.
That performance may have pegged back Cardiff’s early season progress but it’s not something Taylor, or the squad is willing to dwell on as they look for immediate improvements:
“The performance wasn’t great, yes the result wasn’t good but I think in the Premier League any game away from home is going to be tough. Crystal Palace have got a new manager, a new lease of life and the crowd get right behind them.
"They deserved the win on the day. It’s up to us now to put that to bed and to move on.
“As a player and as a group we don’t tend to focus on the negatives and the negative stats. We approach every game as they come and I think that’s the best way you know? If you focus on too many of the stats it can start to affect your confidence.
“We’re a confident bunch, we certainly believe we’re good enough to stay in the league and I think we’ll get a few results over the Christmas period."
Well that Christmas period will be, as ever, busy. Games against West Brom, Liverpool, Southampton and Sunderland come thick and fast as Mackay’s side look to hit the new year in the kind of form and league position which they hope will set them up for a positive second half of the season.
The regular onslaught of games is something Cardiff are used to though. Having plied their trade in the Championship until last season they are not adverse to midweek football having experienced a schedule that takes it’s toll on so many sides.
That was a challenge that Cardiff very much overcame last season – so an unexpected festive advantage perhaps over teams more akin to the weekend-weighted Premier diary.
Another distinct advantage Mackay’s side will have before their New Years day meeting with Arsenal is a run of three home games in four during December.
The Cardiff City Stadium has developed into an unwelcoming destination for traveling teams this season, a trait lauded by many as a key weapon in Mackay’s Arsenal.
“If we can pick up a few wins in the home games that would set us up really nicely for the tough January spell of games we’ve got ahead.
“The atmosphere this year has been the best I’ve ever experienced in my career. The Man City game, the Swansea game, Man United game, but in general the fans have been great.
“It’s important that they stick behind us, they keep believing and they have the confidence in the lads and everything that’s going on, keep getting behind us and we’ll keep trying to do the business on the pitch."
If any Cardiff fans were starting to look over their shoulder they would be advised to take solace in what has been one of the most open starts to a Premier League season ever witnessed.
Top half teams have been seen off by bottom half opposition on more than one occasion – Cardiff themselves were testament to that in August’s magnificent 3-2 win over the money-no-object former champions Manchester City in a game that will live long in the minds of Bluebirds fans.
The same can also be said of a congested bottom half of the division. Just six points separate 10th placed Swansea and second-bottom Crystal Palace, with only Sunderland out of touch with the rest of the pack, propping up the division.
A good Christmas run then could turn November Blues into January Joy in a matter of games – a prospect that is not lost on the Englishman.
“Every team is beating everybody at the minute and that shows how tight our league is this year.
“You just need to look at the bottom half, one win and you can nearly be up to 10th or 11th I think it is, so it is tight.
“It’s important to keep in the group, don’t get cast adrift too much and keep picking up the wins and we’ll move up the league."
Having already seen the affects of not achieving that once in his career it’s easy to believe Andrew Taylor knows just how important that really is.