Before I start moaning, I should just state that a hundred yards or so away on an adjoining pitch, the Under 16’s were proving that it is possible for Cardiff City teams to score goals these days. They got two against their Coventry counterparts at Treforest this lunchtime and I’m pretty sure they even managed to win their match 2-1. I’m afraid though that the Under 18’s turned in the sort of stuff that I’ve become used to watching from City teams at all levels over the past couple of months as Coventry emerged deserved 2-0 winners.
Trying to be fair to our Development and Academy sides, who have both produced displays that mirrored the first teams whenever I have seen them lately, the venues for their home matches are hardly conducive to the type of passing game that is encouraged at youth level at the club. Both Leckwith Stadium and Treforest are wide open to the elements and, even on the calmest of days elsewhere, there always seems to be a pretty strong breeze blowing during matches. Also, I’m fairly certain the pitches used are never watered and so, especially in dry spells like the one we’re having now, it’s not too unusual to see the ball bouncing head high even when it has been kicked or headed fairly gently. Add in the modern day football which is so light that I feel I’m kicking a beachball when I try (and fail!) to “roll back the years” and you have a set of conditions that will test all but the very best of techniques.
However, excuses like that can only go so far because, for the umpteenth time lately, I’ve watched a City team show barely any creativity or cutting edge during ninety minutes of turgid stuff in which you could count the number of times where they looked even remotely like scoring on the fingers of one hand. Early on, things looked fairly encouraging as City looked quicker and livelier than their opponents with Jesse Darko and Ben Nugent (at least I think it was him) firing not too far over, but, after that, two hard working sides tended to cancel each other out for the rest of the opening forty five minutes and half time arrived with the goalless scoreline the game deserved.
After the break, the Coventry keeper finally had to make a save when he collected a pretty tame shot by Tommy O’Sullivan and there were a few more similar such efforts for him to deal with in the dying stages, but the fine save he made midway through the second half after Darko had expertly controlled a high ball and worked a shooting opportunity for himself was the only time he was really tested in the ninety minutes. That was a moment of quality completely at odds with what preceded and followed it and, if anything, Coventry carried even less of a threat than City for most of the game with only the long range shooting of their number eight (Liam Matthews had to make a decent save from a first half shot of his) and the long throws of their left back inconveniencing our defence. In the last ten minutes though, the match was turned on it’s head by an own goal for the visitors from a corner and, shortly afterwards, their right winger skinned Deji Oshilaja and laid a goal on a plate for Coventry’s centre forward. City fell apart in disappointing fashion in those closing stages and only an offside flag stopped Coventry scoring a third as they began to show why they are currently third in the section of the Academy League both teams compete in.
Coventry have been a decent side this year then, but today they were up against a City team that included the maximum of three Under 19 players allowed in this competition and had five of the six youngsters that have been offered pro contracts recently in the starting line up (the sixth came on as a sub). Apart from Joe Ralls and the absent Josh Yorwerth, this was, probably, as strong a youth team as City could put out currently, but, then when you read about Coventry’s coach describing this as their “result of the season” and about the weakened side they had to put out, it does bring home how poorly we played.
I don’t like criticising young players like this and I usually try to single out one or two for praise, but nobody in a City shirt took my eye today (Coventry’s number five looked a fine player in the making mind) – I’m afraid that, yet again, during this dismal period for the club, a Cardiff team turned in a performance way below the standards that were being set before Christmas and early in the New Year.