The Under 18′s ended their season this morning with a 2-2 draw against Portsmouth Under 18′s at Leckwith and, like so many of our seasons since we gained Academy status for the 2004/05 season, they ended up losing more matches than they won. If you go by league tables then it wasn’t a good season, they went into today’s match in ninth place in a ten team league with no chance of getting any higher and I have to admit that there weren’t too many games this season that I saw (and I must have watched seven or eight of them) where I can honestly say we were the better team.
On the other hand, we are constantly told by those involved with the youth team that it is not about results at this level, it’s about player development. I can certainly sympathise with that viewpoint and, when you consider that three of this season’s regulars in the team (Alex Evans, Ibby Farah and Nat Jarvis) have been offered full time deals, it can be claimed that the season was a successful one – off the top of my head, I cannot think of another season recently where so many players were offered pro terms at the end of a campaign. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that we are not under the same financial constraints as we have been in the past, but, although this isn’t meant as a criticism of the three players involved, I can’t help thinking that there have been equally deserving youngsters for pro terms who have been released in recent seasons.
Anyway, Evans, Farah and Jarvis were all missing from the team this morning as City sent out a side which I would assume will be very like the one that starts next season. All four goals came in an entertaining first half but, not for the first time at the new and exposed to the elements Leckwith Stadium, a combination of a dry hard surface and a strong wind blowing down the pitch meant that good, constructive football was at a premium. City put some nice passes together around the quarter of an hour mark mind to score the best goal of the game when a sweeping move from right to left ended with a low cross from Kevin Sainte-Luce (who can be very effective at this level when he gets it all right) being tapped in at the far post by fellow French recruit Yannis Drais.
Ten minutes or so later, City doubled their lead when Jesse Darko challenged for a free kick to the near post and the ball rolled slowly beyond the flat footed visiting keeper – it seemed to me that the decisive touch may have come off a defender, but Darko got the congratulations and the striker, who has come on a fair bit over the second half of the campaign, deserved a goal for another hard working and pretty effective display. To be honest though, a two goal lead flattered City who, although looking quite dangerous at times going forward, were coming second in a lot of the individual battles going on all over the pitch and the visitors reduced the deficit shortly afterwards when they broke from a free kick deep in their own half and, as two defenders went for the same ball, their striker was left with a clear run in on goal from forty yards out.
Portsmouth soon leveled when they profited from a dubious looking corner decision to score from close range after the ball was headed on from the edge of the penalty area and they shaded the rest of the game, but, apart from a mad scramble midway through the second half when the ball was blocked on the City line a couple of times before being blazed wide from about five yards out, neither goal came under too much threat after that.
Best players today for City for me were Adedeji Oshilala who, after playing at full back all season, played effectively at centre back while I liked the look of the kid who started on the right wing before being switching sides and finishing the game at left back (don’t have a name for him sorry), while, one dodgy second half moment apart, I thought the keeper (who has been a regular in the Under 16 team this season) was pretty impressive. As for over the course of the season, Ibby Farah has been the stand out performer for me as the captaincy seemed to bring out the best in him, while Joe Ralls (more effective as the game went on today) and Oshilala were the First Year scholars who impressed me most – with many of the current team still available next year as well as some decent talent from the Under 16′s to, hopefully, come through, perhaps we will get good results to go with player development in 2011/12?
One last thing before I finish, I’m pleased to hear of plans for a 20/21 age group team for next season because, hopefully, that will mean that we don’t get a repeat of the current position whereby players taken on as first year pros play virtually no competitive football unless they get a loan move. This time last year, Jon Meades had been offered a one year contract by the club, but, after playing in Norway for FK Moss during the first half of the season, he hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, played any football since about November! I’m not sure how Meades can have earned himself a further deal at Cardiff under such circumstances – maybe he isn’t good enough for this level, but I can’t see how he could have proved himself one way or another this season. Of course, saying we are going to have an age group team and actually having one could end up being two different things – we are supposed to have a reserve team but, although they have had a few matches in recent weeks, they seem to go for months on end without playing.by The other Bob Wilson
I really should have known better – I was explaining what the consequences of us winning and Norwich drawing would be to the people I was with while we were watching the final scores coming in on Sky Sports’ Soccer Special when their coverage switched to Paul Walsh describing Simeon Jackson’s hat trick goal which gave the East Anglian side their twenty third last minute win of the season (okay, I’m exaggerating there, but only a bit). As had been the case all afternoon, the media’s coverage centred almost entirely on how what Norwich were doing effected QPR and as the picture switched to Loftus Road to watch a group of people who were having their inevitable promotion delayed for another few days, the final scoreline “Preston 0 Cardiff 1″ was only deemed noteworthy because it confirmed Preston’s relegation.
Be honest, were you really that surprised when Norwich went 3-2 ahead? However, the fact that I wasn’t shocked doesn’t make the sense of disappointment any less and, surely, the real losers when it came to Jackson’s goal were Cardiff City and their supporters not Queens Park Rangers? Yes, the chances of a massive points deduction that would see them stay down at our expense can’t be entirely ruled out and we might yet turn around the thirteen goal difference the Londoner’s have while we win our last two matches as they lose theirs (after all, didn’t some team throw away a twenty odd goal difference advantage with four matches to play a couple of years ago?) , but just ask anybody at QPR whether they would want to swap positions with us at the moment!
Norwich maintaining their lead over us though should not distract from the credit City deserve for their win at a ground where they have taken right hammerings. I don’t just mean in the last two seasons when I say that either – we have suffered more heavy defeats at Deepdale since I started supporting the club than at any other ground going all the way back to a 9-0 in 1966. Quite what it is about that part of Lancashire I don’t know, but Cardiff sides have had a tendency to turn to jelly when they pitch up there – since the 9-0 we have suffered seven defeats by three goals or more there and, my research shows that a couple of months after I saw my first match in October 1963, we were beaten 4-0 at Deepdale.
Anyone who watched Preston being stuffed by Millwall on Saturday when they were lucky to only lose 4-0 could be forgiven for thinking all City needed to do yesterday was turn up to claim the points, but they would be discounting just how badly we have done there in the past and, probably more importantly, the fact that Preston were in their best form of the season before the weekend. Just like when we faced Sheffield United a couple of weeks ago, we were visiting a team desperate for the three points for a different reason to us and we went there and did a professional job in picking up the win while not conceding a goal. Despite all the plaudits they get for the way they play the game, the defeats Swansea have suffered in recent weeks at Deepdale and Bramall Lane are as big a reason as any as to why their automatic promotion hopes are negligible now.
It was good to see Peter Whittingham, who, for me, played as poorly as I have seen him do in ages on Saturday, get the goal from the inevitable Bellamy assist. By all accounts, we could and should have scored more as we created plenty of first half chances, but those City fans, like myself, who feel that we do not get that much luck in games (e.g. Ipswich) have to acknowledge that it was certainly on our side when, having had a Chris Brown header hit the post, Nathan Ellington’s follow up was blocked on the goal line by team mate Billy Jones (the fact that another Preston player had the fit again Tom Heaton pinned to the ground in a wrestling hold at the time mind might have had something to do with why Preston came so close to scoring!).
Having Mark Hudson back quicker than expected came in handy in the second half when Preston, hardly surprisingly, resorted to an aerial assault in a failed attempt to preserve their Championship status. The centreback returned to first team action following his injury at Millwall when he replaced Kevin McNaughton who was, reportedly, suffering from cramp and with Michael Chopra getting another twenty minutes of action when he replaced Craig Bellamy, it’s heartening that, David Marshall apart, Dave Jones will, seemingly, have a full squad to pick from for our last two matches.
It still has to be advantage Norwich though and, with there now being only the two matches in which they can drop the points we need them to, their chances of pipping us for second have to be better than they were. I happen to believe that they will win their last two matches and we will have to compete for that last promotion place in the Play Offs again, but I have been wrong plenty of times already this season and I’m sure I will be again before the campaign ends. Portsmouth away will not be easy for Norwich because I believe Steve Cotterill will have his side up for the game. Although they are bottom of the form table currently, Portsmouth have gained two good draws against promotion chasing sides over the Easter weekend, but, even if Norwich win at Fratton Park and we still find ourselves that one point behind them going into the last match, Dave Jones only needs to remind his team of one result from yesterday to show them that we are still right in the running for second place - Reading 2 Sheffield United 3 after the home side had been two up in twenty minutes really does prove that anything is possible in the 2010/11 Championship!
by The other Bob Wilson