What a strange game it turned out to be at Cardiff City Stadium last night as, despite, looking the better side for much of the time, City’s Under 21 Development team were made to pay a very heavy price for ten awful minutes either side of half time by a QPR side who took their chances with a ruthless efficiency to come away with a 4-1 win.
City (who included senior players Dekel Keinan and Craig Conway) continued with the experiment of playing winger Declan John at left back, but took things a stage further this time by using another winger, Kevin Sainte-Luce, at right back – all of this while Kane Owen, who has played full back in about 90% of the matches I’ve seen him in, was used as a left sided midfielder!
These changes may have confused those in another decent sized crowd used to seeing these players perform in different positions for the Under 18’s, but, the early signs were that they also threw their opponents off course for a while because after Jesse Darko had beaten his man to feed Nat Jarvis who looked to put Owen in on goal only for his pass to be scrambled behind by a defender, the resultant corner was glanced in on the near post by Keinan with barely two minutes played.
For a while, a QPR side which featured Rob Hulse as it’s only senior player with first team experience looked like being overrun by an eager City side – they were in trouble every time they had to defend a corner and, with captain Joe Ralls and Theo Wharton winning the battle in central midfield, they found themselves continuously on the back foot with City’s two novice full backs spending more time in their old role as wingers than having their defensive capabilities tested.
All QPR had to offer in response as an attacking force for virtually the whole of the first half were the excellent dead ball skills of their number 8 Frankie Sutherland who played in a series of accurate crosses hit with impressive pace. From one such Sutherland delivery, Deji Oshilaja almost put through his own net but keeper Elliott Parrish did superbly to not only keep the ball out but also hold on to it with opposition players close by all waiting to knock any fumble in for an equaliser.
If there was one thing which emphasised the odd nature of the game, it was probably the fact that this was virtually the only time Parish was forced into making a worthwhile save in the whole ninety minutes. By complete contrast, visiting keeper Aaron Lennox had a very busy evening as, after Jarvis probably should have done better with a header from a Conway cross, he made fine first half saves from Darko, Conway, Ralls and Jarvis.
As half time approached, the only real criticism which could be aimed at City was that they had not got the two goal lead their superiority deserved, but by the time the interval arrived, the match had been turned on it’s head completely with the visitors going in 2-1 up.
The equaliser came about in controversial circumstances as Hulse received the ball with his back to goal about twenty yards out and his marker Keinan went down clutching his face. The experienced front man took advantage of this by spinning around and efficiently beating Parrish with a low shot – the previously whistle happy ref (who at times made Andy D’Urso look good!) saw nothing wrong with this and the lack of protests from other City players suggested he had got the decision right, but Keinan was obviously unhappy with what had happened as he left the pitch after receiving treatment – he felt he had been elbowed by Hulse.
Within a few minutes, QPR were in front when another fine Sutherland free kick was headed in from close in on the far post by one of the visiting central defenders. A couple of people around by me were unhappy with Parrish after this goal claiming he should have come off his line to try and claim the cross and it was hard not to agree with them as he surely would have had more chance of keeping the ball out of the net by going for the ball (and, at the very least, possibly putting the scorer off) than standing on his goal line just waiting to be beaten y a header from what was virtually point blank range. However, the modern approach in goalkeeping coaching seems to be to encourage keepers to stay on their line when a cross comes in and I wouldn’t be surprised if Parrish received little or no criticism from City’s staff for deciding to stay where he was.
Sutherland had another chance to show his dead ball prowess in added time, but not before Hulse and Keinan had both been booked for ignoring the ref’s first warning about shirt grabbing and obstruction before the corner was taken and carrying on committing obvious fouls on each other in the manner which has become all too familiar in recent years. When the corner was eventually taken, most of the QPR attackers cleverly attacked the near post, City’s defenders went with them with the result that the visiting centre half was left completely unmarked on the far post to deliver a header that was nodded just over by one of his colleagues.
That was the last action of an entertaining first half, but the momentum was still firmly with the visitors after the break as they looked much more eager to close City down in possession than they had been before. This policy definitely worked as the home side continuously surrendered possession cheaply – not least from a throw in on their right deep in their own half from which the visitors doubled their lead when a cross was easily turned in by their right winger.
Less than two minutes later the game was over as a contest as City gave the ball away yet again and a cross from the right was nodded past the helpless Parish by Hulse from close range. After this, it seemed that QPR were satisfied that their work was done for the night and the game reverted to it’s former pattern with City enjoying the majority of the pressure, but, although they kept on battling right to the end, they only ever looked threatening again when Lennox made another good save to deny Ralls.
It was at this stage that I remarked that City has enjoyed no luck at all in the game, but thinking about it now, most of Lennox’s saves came from shots from long range. City didn’t create many real goalscoring opportunities because the final pass or cross wasn’t good enough whereas the few that QPR created were of the “can’t miss” type – when Rangers had a chance, they tended to take it with a ruthlessness that City couldn’t match, so, that extent anyway, I suppose the result wasn’t the injustice I was trying to make it out to be.
In saying that, there were a few in City’s team who didn’t deserve to be on the end of a 4-1 beating – in particular, Oshilaja who did well alongside Keinan at centreback, and although the two full backs had their dodgy moments defensively (John did well in this aspect of play after the break though), they also showed what they can bring to their new position when they get the chance to attack – Ralls and Wharton also had every right to come off scratching their heads as to how their side managed to lose so heavily when they were at least the equals of their direct opponents in central midfield.