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Gone but not forgotten:
Danny Cullip
Position: Central defender
From: Sheffield United - on loan - March 2005
Record: Played: 4 Scored: 0
To: Sheffield United - end of loan - May 2005
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Touchy-feely

A few weeks ago, I had to write a profile of Neal Ardley, upon his departure for South Wales. I've written a fair few of these things over the years, about all kinds of players and involving all kinds of stories, from heroic to villainous via an awful lot of irrelevant and inconsequential. But Neal Ardley defeated me, absolutely. I mean, I'm proud of the final piece...but its conception was a torturous, apparently futile exercise in philosophical contemplation, a desperately involved dissection of a highly complex career. It took ages - countless days, endless re-writes - before it seemed to be finished. Heaven knows, I could do without going through all that palaver again.

Handy, then, that the subject of this piece has the complexity of a baking potato. You know where you are with Danny Cullip...and if you're an opposition forward, you're generally sitting on your arse after getting booted up in the air from behind. That's not to suggest that there's no artistry to his game, but in the main, it's restricted to finding innovative ways of beating up opponents without incurring the wrath of the referee. That's a flippant comment, of course, but not entirely without substance: his debut for the Hornets saw him spend a happy afternoon smacking Leeds' Rob Hulse into the turf without receiving a card, while Jay Demerit's attempts to follow suit crossed an invisible line and saw him dismissed. That's the benefit of experience.

It's also what you get from playing under Micky Adams for several years. Very much Adams' kind of player, is Danny Cullip - brutal, but almost so brutal that the whole thing comes full circle and takes on a theatrical, camp grace (and no, I wouldn't tell him that to his face) - and you wouldn't be at all surprised to hear of a move to Highfield Road over the summer. Clearly, Adrian Boothroyd has another agenda, turning down the option of signing him on a permanent basis in favour of looking for "a slightly different type of player"...which, presumably, means more than "slightly", given that there's little point in having someone who's a bit like Danny Cullip, any more than you'd bother buying something that's a bit like Marmite.

Rightly, however, the manager noted the part played in achieving safety. The initial controversy surrounding a loan deal that had been arranged by Ray Lewington prior to his sacking, and which appeared to involve swapping a first choice striker (Danny Webber) for an injured defender, dissipated as he regained his fitness and it became clear that his influence would indeed be significant. Prior to his arrival, a defence without the leadership of Sean Dyche had simply collapsed, leaking dreadful goals at crucial moments and making it impossible to build anything. Instantly, he brought a steel and a resolve and a competitive intent that had been missing, even if it took a little longer to stem the flow of goals against.

Danny Cullip wasn't quite Colin Foster, then, but he had a hefty, shaven-headed impact...and not just on Rob Hulse. The results that kept us up - wins at Rotherham and Stoke in the final weeks - were both achieved by the margin of a single goal, both based upon clean sheets. Much has been made of the bright, positive football that characterised the performances after Adrian Boothroyd had settled into the job; the plain fact, though, is that survival was achieved by something altogether less eye-catching, something rather more basic. We tightened up at the back. It was enough.

It was enough, and it wasn't coincidental. Just as the return of Alec Chamberlain added a certain composure, so the introduction of Danny Cullip brought in someone who was prepared - who relished the opportunity - to take charge of situations. To take responsibility for himself and for others. That's not Neil Cox, much as we wish that it were. It is Sean Dyche, and his injury proved to be a key turning point. Whoever, we desperately needed it...and the gamble (because it was a gamble, undeniably) on shoring up the defence while weakening the attack proved to be fully justified.

In the last moments of his final game for Watford, Danny Cullip offered his input to Ashley Young as the youngster went to take a corner. He offered that input by grabbing him around the ears, pressing forehead to forehead, and barking orders into his face. Whether friend or foe, the approach was hands-on, in the most literal sense.

It did the job.