Late, late, late Baker goal sees Under 21s scrape derby win.

CoymayOn 14 April 1945 City entertained Bristol City in the second leg of a Second Round League North Cup tie. With a 2-1 advantage from the first game at Ashton Gate, City were well placed to make the next round, but the Wurzels managed to turn things around with a 2-1 win of their own.

Thirty minutes of extra time couldn’t settle the tie and with war time restrictions meaning the game had to be played to a finish (penalty shoot outs were still twenty five years or so away), two more thirty minute periods were played without either side scoring.

The game’s fourth period of extra time was nearing it’s end when City’s Billy Rees scored the goal which decided the tie – the match had lasted 202 minutes.

Well, yesterday’s U21 Premier League Cup Second Qualifying Round match against the same opponents at Leckwith yesterday afternoon probably represented the closest thing I’ll experience to what those hardy souls in the crowd went through on that day seventy years ago!

Of course, there was always going to be a penalty shoot out after 120 minutes yesterday, but I believe there must have been similarities of a sort between the two games because the time spent between the visitor’s seventy second minute equaliser and Ashley Baker’s very late winner for City saw two already tired looking sides flogging their guts out in the search for a goal which barely ever looked like coming.

It was pretty poor stuff at times in a game in which, to put things on a basic level, the defenders and destroyers on show were generally better than the attackers and creators.

Yet, City’s start to the match suggested that they would win comfortably. The first five minutes saw Eli Phipps move on to a poor back pass, but then put his cross from the bye line too close to keeper Jojo Woolacott as an unmarked Tyler Roche waited to pounce and then Roche’s excellent cross was just about to present Matt Kennedy with an easy looking headed chance when a last ditch intervention by a defender put the ball out for a corner.

City were far sharper than their opponents at this stage though and it only took seven minutes for them to score. The build up to the goal contained what was, by far, the best individual moment of the match as Theo Wharton beat six opponents (I’m not exaggerating there – Cardiff City World subscribers can watch it on the club’s website) in a thirty yard run which took him from a left wing position on the half way line to a central area on the edge of the penalty box.

It was an outstanding piece of play by the midfielder which, in an ideal world, would have ended with a shot into the top corner. However, Wharton’s effort, though well struck, was straight at Woolacott and the keeper will have been disappointed that he could only knock the ball into the path of Phipps who put away the chance as comfortably as he did so consistently for the Under 18s over the last two seasons.

If Robbie Patten had been able to reward another fine individual run by a City player when Roche’s pass after a mazy dribble presented him  with a shooting chance about ten yards out, then I’m pretty sure the game would have followed a different pattern, but another good defensive block saw the home team gain nothing more than another unproductive corner.

Effective last ditch defending notwithstanding, the Wurzels couldn’t really be as bad as they had looked in the opening half an hour. Clumsy in possession, lightweight in attack and, seemingly, slower in thought and deed than their opponents in the middle of the pitch, the opportunity was there for City to settle the match once and for all in the first thirty minutes.

Yet, for the remainder of the first half, all you got from City were “nearly moments” when they were a poor pass or wrong decision away from the chance to double their lead.

Given how comfortable they had been, it probably wasn’t a surprise that City’s intensity levels began to drop and the visitors were able to finally keep possession and suggest that the game could become more competitive as the half drew to it’s close – that said, half time arrived with them not having given Ben Wilson in the Cardiff goal a single anxious moment.

The second half proved to be a dour affair – City had left their first half fluency behind in the dressing room during the interval as failed individual sorties and hit and hope passing took over from the smooth teamwork they had shown during their best moments in the first forty five minutes.

Now, although there was little suggestion of a further goal coming at either end of the pitch, it was the Wurzels who looked more likely to provide one. Wilson was finally called into action when their number seven had a couple of efforts from around twenty yards which drew routine saves from the keeper, but he was in more difficulty when a dipping effort from further out by Bristol’s number eight bounced off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick.

I can remember Ashley Baker scoring for City against the jacks in a losing cause in an Under 18 game last season and now he's scored against another local rival and this time it was a match winner.

I can remember Ashley Baker scoring for City against the jacks in a losing cause in an under 18 game last season and now he’s scored against another local rival, but, this time, his goal was a match winner.

By now it was looking as if the only way City would win in ninety minutes was if they could see the game out with their 1-0 lead intact, but they were unable to do so as the Wurzels claimed an equaliser with just under twenty minutes left when a corner beyond the far post was won by one of their players who headed across goal. Patten was able to head clear, but the ball went back to the Bristol man who dinked a good cross in which a group of players went for and it was Shaun McCoulsky who got his head to it as the ball rolled gently over the line.

All City had to show in terms of a goal threat during the second period was a cross from the right that was met on the volley by Roche to draw a good save out of Woolacott. Even so, the keeper’s block dropped into the sort of area I would expect Phipps (who may not look the complete package at this level yet, but has always had the natural goalscorer’s instinct which seem to anticipate where the ball is likely to go) to profit from, but he had got a glancing touch with his head to the original cross and so was in the process of picking himself up from the floor at the time.

I don’t know whether it was because of a pitch which looked more lush and green than the normal one seen at Leckwith, but a couple of players had needed treatment for cramp even before Bristol’s equaliser and tiredness was already a factor as the teams played out the remainder of the ninety minutes with little in the way of goalmouth action at either end.

In saying that, it did show how the match had changed in that it was now City who were being called upon to produce the sort of good defending that had been seen by Bristol in the opening stages of the game – centrebacks Baker and captain Tom James being increasingly called upon to nip possible goal threats in the bud.

The vast majority of the thirty minutes extra time produced little in the way of memorable football. Wilson dealt capably with another long ranger by Bristol’s number eight and Woolacott reacted sharply to grab a low cross from Matt Kennedy (who had a largely frustrating afternoon – Roche on the other flank looked the more dangerous of City’s wingers to me) on the goal line with sub Abdi Noor close by.

Mostly though, the game became a stop start affair as tiredness and frustration led to a series of fouls and, inevitably, the yellow card count mounted. By and large, there was nothing malicious in the majority of the challenges, but that could not be said of the crude lunge by Bristol’s number six which took out Roche in full flight as the game entered it’s final minute – to me, it was the sort of foul which would have been punished by a straight red card in first team football.

The fact it was that foul which provided the free kick from which City won the match provided an element of justice, because, although City had been sloppy in allowing what had been a stroll to become a slog, there was little doubt that they were the better side over the 120 minutes and it was fitting that they were able to come up with another moment of quality which their opponents couldn’t match on the day to decide the game.

Kennedy’s free kick was half cleared to James who produced a chest trap and volleyed cross that a Whittingham or Noone would have been proud of and it was centreback partner Baker who was there to head in from about five yards out to put his team through to the next round.

In setting up the goal, James showed the composure which, for me at least, marks him down as a possible first team player of the future, but, as mentioned before, this was an afternoon where composure and creativity was in pretty short supply and it was more of a game for defending and dogged determination – those were the qualities which made James my City man of the match with the always impressive Robbie Patten not too far behind him.



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A good result, but a performance which emphasises the need for realism when it comes to expectations.

CoymayIt seems to me that in the early weeks of every season during the past ten years or more, whoever has been Cardiff City manager at the time has told everyone that there is no point in looking at the league table until a certain time in the future when it is able to tell a more accurate story as to how things will end up in early May.

As to when that time is, well some of those managers tell us it’s when we’ve played ten games and for others it’s twelve, but the reason why we tend to hear this line trotted out so often must surely be that, in most years anyway, it’s something that’s been widely proven to be correct.

Speaking for myself, the time of the domestic season’s second international break always strikes me as a moment when you can start to draw a few conclusions – so, where does yesterday’s 1-1 draw with league leaders Brighton leave us at the time when we are told that drawing some conclusions about how the campaign will work out is allowable?

Using last season as an example, as we looked forward to Wales facing Bosnia and Cyprus in consecutive home matches in October 2014, the Championship table, certainly at the top of it, wasn’t too different from how it looked after forty six matches.

For example, two current Premier League teams topped the table with Norwich on twenty one points, which was one more than Watford. Beaten Play Off finalists Middlesbrough were fifth, but, reflecting what turned out to be a very congested promotion race, were also on twenty points, while the other Play Off teams (Ipswich and Brentford) were sixth and tenth respectively.

At the bottom, Bolton and Fulham pulled themselves clear of the relegation places, but the writing was already on the wall for Blackpool in twenty third, while fellow current League One sides Wigan and Millwall were twenty first and sixteenth respectively.

If you added up the total yardage for Joe Mason's goals this season, it probably wouldn't reach forty, but this one, which put us ahead after only five minutes yesterday was his fifth in ten Championship matches - there are encouraging signs that, after all of money spent iin recent years, we have a

If you added up the total yardage for Joe Mason’s goals this season, it probably wouldn’t reach forty, but this one, which put us ahead after only five minutes yesterday was his fifth in ten Championship matches – there are encouraging signs that, after all of money spent in recent years, we have a “fox in the box” type striker who cost us less than 200k.*

There were anomalies – the League’s only two unbeaten sides Forest and Charlton were both in the top six within one and two points respectively of Norwich, but would soon begin the slide which would designate them as epitomising “mid table mediocrity throughout the second half of the campaign – eventual Champions Bournemouth found themselves down in eleventh spot on fifteen points.

As for us, we were in fourteenth place, with four points less than we have now despite the fact that we had played eleven matches rather than the ten the current team have had. We may have managed to climb three places by the end of the season, but the dye which saw us spend the last two months of the campaign competing with Forest, Charlton and the likes of Birmingham, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds and Reading in a meaningless mini league where the prize was to see who came tenth had been cast.

With yesterday’s result leaving us in eighth place, six points behind Brighton, but only a couple behind sixth placed Burnley, the all round picture is, undeniably, a better one than it was twelve months ago. However, rather than have me go on about why even a fine result like yesterday’s still raises questions as to whether this squad is really good enough to maintain, and slightly improve, it’s position over the coming seven months, I’ll leave that to manager Russell Slade.

I believe Slade did a very good job of summing up things in his post match press conference yesterday where he said;-

“We were not great at times, we were loose with the ball and nowhere near our best”.

“We had a good start but didn’t back it up. We got ourselves too deep, we weren’t pressing high enough and when we did win the ball back we were too eager and got the ball turned over again.”.

“It was a open game in the second-half but they had 20 shots to our six and had superiority in possession.”

What I have to say here is that two of those comments were followed by praise for the way we still managed to become the first team to take points off Brighton at the Amex Stadium this season, despite us not having played that well.

Our manager also said;-

“We wouldn’t have eked out that result last season. That’s the progress of the team, the spirit and togetherness of this group got us that result.”

That seems a reasonable and correct statement to me .

Now, there are still issues which concern me about Russell Slade. For a start, I mention quite often on here that the impression is often given that providing encouragement to our younger players by showing them that there is a route into the first team for them is something that our manager regards as low priority.

Also, his insistence on playing 4-4-2 (albeit with some variations from what is seen as the traditional method of playing that system) every week does not impress me and, up to now at least, his record when it comes to new signings can only be described as mixed. The one fairly sizable fee Slade has paid, for current Preston loanee Eoin Doyle, only adding to a suspicion that he won’t be the best if he is ever given the chance to spend the sort of money our last two managers were on new recruits.

However, it would be churlish not to acknowledge that, if our season can be called a success at this early stage, an awful lot of the credit for that has to go the manager. He clearly has a squad who want to play for him and, as I’ve mentioned before, even if his critics carry on insisting that the improvement in the quality of our football and results since February is solely down to Paul Trollope’s arrival, then they at least have to credit Slade for being open minded enough to allow his Head Coach to change what was there before.

I think it’s fair to say that that what we’ve seen so far in 15/16 has at least shown that Vincent Tan’s choice of manager a year ago has not been quite the disaster that very many supporters spent most of last season believing it to be – I certainly fell into that category at times!

However, if our manager can continue to keep us in or around the top six for the next few months, then Mr Tan has a few big decisions to make as the January transfer window looms.

For all of the encouraging signs provided by our start to the season, recent games have offered some evidence that the time is approaching where Russell Slade may have to consider the team changes that he has, largely, been reluctant to make so far. Although having Peter Whittingham going through a run of improved form like he is now has to be beneficial to any Cardiff team, there are individuals whose performance levels have dropped from the standards they set for themselves earlier in the season.

To name names, Sean Morrison was not at his best again yesterday, Anthony Pilkington (who I’d normally have as one of the first names on my team sheet) followed up a quietish display against Charlton last week with a poor one at Brighton and, with no goals in his last five appearances, Kenwyne Jones is showing signs of drifting into the exasperating listlessness we see from him from time to time.

The South Wales Echo reported during the week that there was no fee involved in the Idriss Saadi signing and, if that is true, then City’s summer spending was very, very low by the standards of this division – something that tends to serve as a reminder that we are still largely relying on the players who helped make last season such a miserable experience.

By and large, improvements in attitude and fitness levels should mean that most players will not drop to typical 2014/15 performance levels too often. However, it’s also true to say that even if the mind and body is willing, it won’t be enough if the basic talent that marks a footballer out as someone who can perform consistently well at the top end of the Championship isn’t there and  I’m not sure it is in all of the players who have been regular starters this season.

Having someone like Bruno Manga in the squad should mean that there is no problem with making a change at centreback as long as he stays fit and you’d like to think that we have the options in wide areas to handle a change there as well, but, up front? I’m not sure we have.

There are those in the local media who talk about Kenwyne Jones as being the best target man type striker in the Championship. For me, he can be, but they are only a quarter, or maybe a third, right in that opinion. I say that because, based on what I’ve seen of the player at this level since we got relegated, there are only about ten to fifteen league matches a season where the Kenwyne they talk about turns up, whereas there are at least as many where the player who did little to stem the tide of play towards the City goal yesterday puts in an appearance – it also has to be said that in the year this manager, who favours playing two up front, has been here, there has been no sign whatsoever of anyone being able to combine with Kenwyne to form even a decent quality strike partnership at this level.

My fear is that the season could end up like one of those we had during Dave Jones’ early days where Play Off bids stalled because of insufficient strength in depth in some areas of the pitch. Even if “Premier League Kenwyne” was there for nearly all of our remaining matches, it seems to me that normal wear and tear would see Russell Slade eventually having to rely on players he doesn’t appear to rate or trust.

Russell Slade acknowledges the City support at the end of yesterday's game - I would say his stock among fans is as high as it's ever been in the past year.*

Russell Slade acknowledges the City support at the end of yesterday’s game – I would say his stock among fans is as high now as it’s ever been in the past year.*

Back in those Dave Jones days I talked about, it was Peter Ridsdale who was responsible for allocating the finances. Although there was one notorious time when he wasn’t, Ridsdale was usually ready (occasionally too ready!) to splash what cash we had during January and it shouldn’t be forgotten that we were able to sign Whittingham in January during these years for a very good price, with the signing of Ricky Scimeca in the same window being another very good piece of business.

However, the fact that, for every Whittingham and Scimeca, there tended to be two or three Iwan Redans, Warren Feeneys or Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungus tends to emphasise the restrictions Dave Jones had to operate under, whereas it could be that money would be no object come January under the current ownership.

I say this while also believing that Vincent Tan can hardly be blamed if, having made so much money available to the club in the form of loans over the last six years or so, he decided to continue with what appears to be the current policy of having to bring in transfer receipts before anything can be spent on new players.

My view is that a continuation of that policy, justified that it may be on one level, has to mean that Mr Tan would have to accept that any chance we have of playing Premier League football next season would be dramatically reduced.

Yes, there are those previously mentioned doubts about whether Russell Slade would be one of those managers who is able to spend significant sums in the transfer market well (there are plenty who can’t), but the view I’m coming around to is that, in recent months, he has earned the right to be able to do so in January.

It wouldn’t have to be a fortune and I’d say we’d only need two or three more players, but, hopefully, Vincent Tan is going to be faced with a decision soon as to whether the priority for this season is more of what appears to be a policy of repaying some of those loans or regaining a place in the league where his chances of getting more of that money back would be much improved.

*photos courtesy of








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