After their narrow defeat at QPR last week, the Under 21 Development side returned to winning ways with what was in the end a comfortable 3-1 over Brentford last night in a match which had far more “bite” to it than your average fixture at this level. While last night’s encounter couldn’t be described as a dirty one, speaking as someone who has seen all of our competitive home games at this new level over the last season and a bit, it was certainly the most physical match I’ve seen during that time with Brentford not averse to tripping and obstructing right from the early stages and our side hardly reluctant to reply in kind.
That said, the officious performance of referee Mark Greenwood did put me in mind of that old chicken and egg question – did the game pan out as it did because of the referee’s all too frequent use of the whistle or was it one that needed firm control right from the very first whistle? To be honest, I’m not sure of the answer to that question, but I did think the official might have relaxed his stance a bit after he had asserted his authority, but, if anything, he became more whistle happy as the game went on – it was annoying, but, for me at least, it didn’t ruin what was another enjoyable night watching a team with a smattering of youngsters who would have been good enough to have been playing every week for City just over a decade ago, but have yet to make a league appearance for the club.
Mr Greenwood certainly didn’t keep his cards in his pocket and it’s no coincidence that the four visiting players to see yellow all did so for fouls on the elusive Kadeem Harris who is turning into a very effective performer at this level. Operating almost exclusively on the left, Harris caused no end of problems to the visiting defence in the second half in particular and, with him offering more evidence of the improvement in his crossing this season, City definitely had the chances to have added a few more goals to the three they did get.
With Simon Moore, Matt Connolly, Filip Kiss and Rudy Gestede starting and new signing Maxi Amonadarain in at centreback, the City side had a level of experience to it that, left back Scott Barron apart, Brentford couldn’t match. Given this and City’s formidable home record at this level (it’s eleven wins out of thirteen at Cardiff City Stadium now) it was no surprise to see them looking threatening right from the start and Jack Bonham (who had a very tough time of it when he came on to make his debut for Watford in their promotion showdown with Leeds last season and let in four in his only league start so far for Brentford) made the first in what was a string of fine saves when Rhys Healey had a clear sight of goal within the first few minutes.
Gestede then had the ball in the net only for the goal to be disallowed, presumably for a push, and, having got so high above his marker, the Frenchman probably should have done better than nod a Harris corner a foot or two over a few minutes later. Bonham foiled Healey again and also denied Harris after the winger had beaten a couple of defenders, but, the feeling that City had not cashed in while they were on top grew as Brentford found a foothold in the game as they were given a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas which came to nothing.
Lively centre forward Luke Norris came closest in the first half for the visitors with a well struck volley from the corner of the penalty area which would have given Simon Moore no chance if it had been a few inches further to his left and, although they didn’t offer too much else in attacking sense, they succeeded in blunting the City attack to the extent that when they did go ahead five minutes before the break, the goal came out of the blue (if I may be permitted to use that term these days). Gestede was the instigator and scorer as he worked a one two with Healey by moving on to his co-striker’s clever pass and calmly sidefooting past Bonham in one of those moments which shows why some fans (like myself) think Rudy is too easily dismissed by many others in City’s support.
Having had a quiet second quarter of the game, City began to reestablish their authority during the third – impressive left back Kane Owen clipped the bar when his cross caused the keeper problems in much the same manner as Declan John, the player Owen was deputising for, did for Wales on Friday night. Healey then shot inches wide after cutting in from the right and Bonham made a brilliant triple save when he, first, kept out Harris’ long range low shot, then got up to block Healey’s follow up and, finally, turned captain Deji Oshiliaja’s blasted effort around the post.
Despite all of this dominance, the fact that the scoreboard behind Bonham’s goal still only showed 1-0 offered his team hope that they could get something out of the game. In truth, apart from one effort from distance which forced Moore into a fairly routine save, there was little sign that they had the fire power to do so, but they could take hope from the fact that Mr Greenwood was now penalising the most minimal of contacts and when a Brentford forward went down in the penalty area after a half hearted looking challenge by Jaye Bowen, it wasn’t really a surprise to see the ref point to the spot. Norris confidently sent Moore the wrong way to equalise and for a short time, City’s frustration threatened to get the better of them as they gave away a series of free kicks and Gestede was justifiably booked for a lunge at Brentford’s number eight Miller-Rooney who was probably the most penalised player on the pitch.
Gestede was seen in a more positive light when his flicked header sent Healey clear and the youngster made it six goals in six matches this season as he held his nerve to comfortably beat the keeper. The scores had been level for just three minutes and this goal, effectively, ended the game as a contest – where it had looked like Brentford’s equaliser might see City lose their discipline, now it was shown that they used it to up their performance a notch and the last quarter of an hour saw the visitors struggling to keep the score down.
Bonham excelled yet again to deny Kiss after Harris had got to the byeline and pulled the ball back to him and then the midfielder saw his angled free kick come back off the upright, but City weren’t to be denied another goal and the Gestede/Healey combination came up trumps again when Bonham pushed away the latter’s angled shot and deserved better than to see Gestede arriving to tap the ball in from close range. There was time for Oshilaja to shot just wide from a free kick before Mr Greenwood’s whistle was able to finally get a rest as he blew it for the last time to signal the end of another in a long line of very watchable Development team games at Cardiff City Stadium.
I’ve already mentioned Kadeem Harris’ performance, others who impressed me were Oshilaja and Theo Wharton in midfield – as I mentioned right at the start, these are players who would have played stacks of first team matches if they had been around in the late nineties.