Malky Mackay has, justifiably in many respects, got his detractors amongst City fans, but, with some people now calling for Cardiff City to acquire a discernible identity in terms of club philosophy, I always believed that this was something we were on our way to achieving under the man who is one of just three City managers to have won a league title in the club’s history. Okay, Mackay’s philosophy may have been too defensive for many, but, despite, hardly surprisingly, finding life in the Premier League a struggle, I always believed the momentum at Cardiff, on the pitch at least, was forward while Malky was here and there seemed to be a structure in place whereby teams below first team level adhered to the club “philosophy”.
Back in the first half of last season, Brentford were a team who wanted our players on loan, but, last night, little more than a year later, I saw them win in Cardiff for the third time this season. Last night’s 1-0 victory for their Under 21 team at Cardiff City Stadium completed a hat trick for the London side following their Academy team’s 2-1 win in October and the first team’s thoroughly deserved 3-2 triumph here just before Christmas.
Now I should say a couple of things here, first, the wins by their two junior sides had an element of good fortune to them (their goal led a charmed life in the closing stages last night) and second, there have been plenty of times in the past thirty years when the Londoners have had a better team than us, so there is a danger that what I’m saying about them sounds arrogant and patronising. It’s not meant to be, it’s just that I’m trying to show that, from being a long way behind us not too long ago, there is now plenty of evidence to suggest that these days they are a better club than us in so many ways.
Brentford spent 2014 working, and prospering, with a philosophy that sees them play in a slightly different manner to many (for example, like their first team, their Under 21’s kept two or three players in forward positions when defending corners) – they currently look like a club who know how they want to progress and what they need to do to move forward, whereas we have spent the last thirteen months reeling about like one of those pissed up, cowboy hat wearing, part time rugby fans who will be everywhere on Westgate Street on Friday night!
Anyway, on to last night’s game. With senior players such as Alan McCormack, Nick Proschwitz and Marcos Tebar (who played for Real Madrid in La Liga in 2009) in their ranks, a Brentford side occupying a lowly position in the table always represented a potential banana skin for a young City team missing skipper Tommy O’Sullivan who had joined Port Vale on loan for the rest of the season just before kick off.
I think I’m right in saying that only striker Danny Johnson was an over age player in City’s team, but, interestingly, they did include Declan John in a midfield role on the left. For those of us who believe that he has more to offer playing in his more natural wing role than at left back, it was good news that there are those at the club who might now feel the same way and, within minutes, John had dribbled past four opponents to work himself into what looked like a goalscoring position only for his shot to be blocked at the expense of a corner.
Unfortunately, this proved to be an isolated moment of excitement in a first half that, from a City perspective anyway, was as depressing to watch as anything produced by the first team in recent months. The visitors were pretty comfortably in control throughout – Proschwitz scored a simple goal on twenty minutes when the right hand side of our defence went missing and the German had a run in on goal which he ended by calmly side footing passed the advancing Charlie Horton.
If you could be critical of Brentford during their period of dominance, then I suppose you could say they had little in the way of an end product – Proschwitz wasn’t far away with a shot before his goal and Horton made a couple of decent saves, but, generally, there was little sign of them getting a second goal. Mind you, given what City were coming up with, the visitors could be forgiven for thinking they already had the game won – apart from a 3-0 win over Bristol City inspired by Kimbo’s one good performance in a Cardiff shirt in 2014, the Under 21s have now managed just two goals (one a penalty) from six games at Cardiff City Stadium this year.
During the opening forty five minutes, it was disheartening to see the number of times the ball was given away with poor passes and possession was surrendered with bad first touches by City players. Even worse, on the rare occasions when they managed to work themselves into a promising positions, the poor decision making and lack of composure shown reflected poorly on those involved - for example, a lack of precision in passing turned what started as a 3 on 2 into a shot from Theo Wharton (still a long way short of being the player who has looked so good at this level in the past two seasons I’m afraid) from twenty five yards that ended up being closer to the corner flag than the Brentford goal and Johnson, criminally, ignored the far better placed Gethyn Hill by going for glory with a shot that was easily dealt with.
At the time I thought Johnson’s withdrawal at half time might have been a punishment for his selfishness, but the subsequent announcement of his one month loan move to Stevenage was a far more likely explanation for his non appearance in the second half. Whatever the cause, the introduction of substitute Tyler Roche was the start of a process that saw the home side produce a far better display after the break, but it was when David Tutonda came on for the injured Kane Owen around the hour mark that City really began to dominate.
Owen’s injury meant that John had to switch back to left back, but his somewhat suspect defensive qualities were barely tested as he spent the last half an hour still playing virtually as a winger. Much of the danger to Brentford’s goal came from down City’s left where John and Roche combined very effectively and Ben Watkins was twice denied by a combination of keeper Jack Bonham and the upright after the right side of the visitor’s defence was opened up – Macauley Southam then blasted the rebound from the second of these efforts over from about ten yards out.
Bonham then tipped over a rasping Tutonda shot from nearly thirty yards out and Hill, now playing as a lone striker, showed the same sort of selfishness that Johnson had done earlier when he fired well over from distance instead a playing a simple pass to the sub who would have been clean through on goal.
There was now a pretty steady stream of crosses coming in from City’s left and many of them, from both John and Roche, were just crying out for someone to get on the end of them. The fact that no one ever did, perhaps offers a clue as to why this team, despite it’s lofty position in the table, finds it’s so hard to score at home – even when Bonham palmed a John cross out towards an area around the penalty spot where you would have thought an attacker should be lurking, he had time to get up and scramble the ball away to safety as Southam challenged.
With no one around to finish off promising attacks, it’s easy to blame the strikers, but, to be fair to Hill, there were times when, just like Alex Revell on Saturday, he worked hard to be in a position to set something up only for there to be no one bursting forward to get into the penalty area and so momentum was lost and the chance wasted. In saying that though, City could feel hard done by in the end as Bonham denied Roche from Tutonda’s fine through ball, John fizzed yet another low cross across the face of goal and Southam was just about crowded out by some frantic defending.
So, despite it being much better in the second half, it ended in another home defeat for the Under 21s who seem to be a much more effective team on the road this season. Best player for me by some distance was Declan John (if performances like this go unnoticed by Russell Slade, I’m sure there are clubs elsewhere who will have noted it), while the two subs I mentioned and central defenders Tom James and Maxi Amondarain were others who did well.
Finally, a word about the ref. I just had to look up his name on the team sheet because he did nothing at all during the match to cause me to do that – well done to Adam Ricketts for an undemonstrative and effective performance which, like all of the best refereeing displays, passed off virtually unnoticed at the time.