HE might be 39 now, but both Tony Mowbray and Stuart Parnaby are only too aware of the threat Kevin Phillips could pose as Middlesbrough look to maintain their promotion push with a win at Crystal Palace this afternoon.
Phillips, who is currently in his 18th season as a professional, joined Palace on loan from Blackpool on January transfer deadline day and notched his first goal for the Eagles when he came off the bench to grab a dramatic equaliser in this month's 2-2 draw with Watford.
Mowbray worked with the veteran striker during his time in charge of West Brom, while Parnaby was in the same Birmingham City squad as Phillips for a three-year period.
The former Sunderland marksman might have lost a yard or two of pace, and his appearances are generally restricted to substitute cameos these days, but his former colleagues are mindful of the threat he continues to pose.
“I managed Kevin for a couple of seasons at West Brom, and ultimately he left at the end of one season with a knee injury,” said Mowbray. “That was part of the negotiations at the time.
“He was 34 at the time and yet five years later he is still banging in the goals. You can't take away that instinct of arriving in the box, being in the right place at the right time and having the technique to finish.
“He hasn't got the mobility he had in his heyday or the spring in his step, but nobody will ever take away the knowledge he has as a great goalscorer.”
The best moments of Phillips' career came during his time at Sunderland. He scored 35 goals in all competitions during the 1997-98 season, and claimed 23 goals in 26 league games in the following campaign as the Black Cats won promotion to the Premier League.
His first season in the top-flight was his most successful, with his 30 goals earning him the Premier League's Golden Boot award and the prestigious European Golden Boot.
He joined Southampton after leaving the North-East, and also spent time at Aston Villa before linking up with Mowbray at the Hawthorns.
He was signed to provide a cutting edge to a forward line that had previously lacked incision, and delivered with aplomb as West Brom romped to the Championship title in 2008.
“I have to say Kevin made the difference for us,” said Mowbray. “We sold a team while I was there and bought a new one, but in the season we went up, Phillips made the difference.
“He scored all sorts of goals. In the tight games in the Championship, the ones that are so hard to win, Kevin would spin 35 yards out and whack one into the top corner. It took your breath away. Or he would rise like a salmon and bullet a header into the other corner.
“He would make the difference most games and we won a lot of games because of what he could instinctively do.
“I tried hard to keep him, but the decision to let him go was made on business grounds. Albion are a very well-run business and they were asking, 'How long can he keep going' and 'How far can he continue to go?' Since then, I have to say Kevin has proved all the decision makers wrong.”
Having left West Brom, Phillips remained in the Midlands to join Birmingham, where he linked up with Parnaby.
He came off the substitutes' bench to score a typically clinical stoppage-time winner on his debut, and finished his first campaign at St Andrew's as the Blues' leading goalscorer with 13 goals.
He scored the winning goal against Reading to take Birmingham back into the Premier League, and continued to make his mark in the top-flight despite being in his mid-30s, something that impressed Parnaby hugely.
“I had three years with him,” said the Boro full-back. “He is very professional, and to be still doing what he is doing is fantastic. There's no way I will still be playing then, my body won't take it.
“There are players who can do it. He still enjoys himself, but he knows when to look after himself too. He doesn't just sit in the house and he knows when the time is right to let himself go. But he works hard every day in the gym, and for any young lad looking to make it in the game, they should look at him.
“He is still at a good level. When you see his movement in training, when he moves, he scores. He doesn't get the minutes he used to, but he still gets the goals. It's a clever signing because Ian Holloway (Crystal Palace manager) knows how to look after him. He will know how to get the best out of him, and we will have to watch out for him.”