As bad as I’ve seen from the Under 21s.

CoymayWhen I started this blog over six years ago, one of the things I decided I’d do was to be generally positive about the matches I watched below first team level – even in the most awful of games I’d try to temper criticism by finding something praiseworthy to say about some aspects of what I had watched.

However, I don’t think that task has been any harder than it is after the miserable ninety minutes I spent watching City’s Under 21 side lose 2-0 at Leckwith yesterday afternoon to a Barnsley team whose record going into the match was played eleven, won one and lost ten.

I’ve just watched the two and a half minutes highlights package of the match on the club website and can confirm that, apart from two incidents which would have stretched the whole thing just beyond the three minute mark, the person doing the editing has captured everything worth recording that happened in the game – it was desperately poor stuff most of the time.

I think all I can do in the search for positives is say that three players in the City side should probably be exempt from too much criticism, but, in reality, in only one of those cases would it be because they had played pretty well.

For me, the one member of the team who could be reasonably satisfied with his performance was goalkeeper Luke Wakeman – there were some fine saves among the few that he had to make and he couldn’t be blamed for either goal.

Of the others, Eli Phipps only lasted around twenty minutes before going off with an injury sustained as he challenged for a through ball with the Barnsley keeper and a defender and, although he was at fault with the opening goal, I suppose allowances have to be made for Ben Turner who played for an hour in what was his first competitive appearance of the season after injury.

Overall though, it was a thoroughly miserable performance by City. With Barnsley mostly content to sit back and defend an early lead, the almost complete failure to create anything worthwhile in open play despite all of the possession and territorial advantage they enjoyed was, for me, the biggest single indictment in a match full of poor decision making and execution from those in City shirts.

I’ve seen plenty of players like Robbie Patten, Jamie Veale, Macauley Southam and Tyler Roche in recent years and know that they are capable of a lot better than what they showed yesterday. Patten is a player I like and I think his poor showing could be dismissed as a one off, while Veale’s neat technique and impressive vision usually marks him out as someone who can find a pass to unlock a defence. Roche has pace, the quality so many say the first team lacks, in abundance and Southam has an ability to find space in forward areas and can finish well, but none of them contributed anything which suggested they were capable of breaking down Barnsley’s massed defensive ranks.

Only Matt Kennedy looked like he might be able to create something, but he spent much of the afternoon running down blind alleys and, without Phipps to aim for, City didn’t really have the personnel with the presence and goal instincts to take advantage of the succession of crosses he put in. To be fair, the lack of a natural striker for most of the game made life hard for City, but you would have thought they could have come up with something more to test a defence which cannot have been the most confident given the way the season had gone for them so far.

I don’t know how much of the match Russell Slade watched (he passed by me on the way to taking a seat in the stand with about twenty minutes left), but, I would have thought that what he saw would have made him even more sure that his comments about the club’s Academy not producing the goods in recent years were justified.

Speaking as someone who has been a persistent critic of his attitude towards youth development, I have to admit that there was hardly anything on view yesterday to suggest our manager was wrong in his opinion, but I would argue that this is one of  those what came first, the chicken or the egg situations. Was yesterday’s awful showing simply down to the fact that our youngsters aren’t good enough or was it an inevitable consequence of an ethos at the club in which young footballers are not getting the encouragement and, possibly, standard of coaching that they should be receiving as they try to make what has to be the hardest step of all in their careers – into the first team?

What I will say, is that, apart from Declan John (who, for a variety of reasons, has not played many games this season and was absent again yesterday on Wales Under 21 duty), I don’t see anyone who is consistently putting in performances which merit consideration for a place in the first team squad.

However, I maintain that the end of last season represented an ideal opportunity to give some of our young players the odd five or ten minutes of first team action here and there which, I believe, would have given them a completely different mindset to take into the new campaign.

Russell Slade talked recently about how sending players out on loan to play first team football was his preferred way of bringing on youngsters on pro contracts. That all sounds pretty reasonable to me and I certainly wouldn’t say that our manager is wrong in thinking that, but the performance of one of our players yesterday, who has just come back from a loan spell with a League Two club, illustrates that this policy can prove counter productive at times.

Now, I’m someone who has questioned the thinking behind bringing in Semi Ajayi in the summer, while at the same time releasing a home grown centreback in Josh Yorwerth who is good enough to be a regular starter for his country’s Under 21 team. However, I acknowledge that Ajayi has the physical attributes to be a very commanding performer and his Arsenal background has helped ingrain an approach which sees him try to play out constructively from the back – I accept that he has potential and that he was a natural candidate to be loaned out in the way our manager prefers.

Semi Ajayi pictured in action for AFC Wimbledon in a loan spell that began well for him, but ended with him out of the team after injury and the concession of five goals in two matches.

Semi Ajayi pictured in action for AFC Wimbledon during a loan spell that began well for him, but ended with him out of the team after injury and the concession of eight goals in two matches.

Unfortunately, having suffered a head injury while at AFC Wimbledon, which their manager Neil Ardley says affected his confidence, Ajayi was far from the imposing performer I’ve seen him be in the past yesterday – his decision making was poor, his distribution hurried and ragged and he received the game’s only yellow card for a poor challenge which would have seen him being shown a red if the ref had decided to punish him in the same way for a similar foul about half an hour earlier.

I should mention again here that it’s easy to fall into the trap of reading too much into yesterday’s very poor showing, but I can’t help thinking that, as our Under 21s are also known as the club’s Development side, are these young players actually being “developed” under the current approach at Cardiff?

Certainly, Semi Ajayi’s game has not developed this season, in fact I’d say it’s gone backwards. Similarly, Russell Slade has talked of Tommy O’Sullivan’s game stagnating at Under 21 level (I agree that he wasn’t playing as well as I’d seen him do often in the past), but it’s an accusation which, even if you leave yesterday’s match aside, could be directed at a few in the team which faced Barnsley.

Going back to Josh Yorwerth, his loan from Ipswich to Crawley has been extended to three months on the back of him playing a central part in seeing that club rise up the League Two table thanks to a run of four wins in the six matches he has played.

Last week, Yorwerth was interviewed about how his stay at Crawley was working out and contrasted the encouragement he has received from his manager at Ipswich, Mick McCarthy, and Crawley boss Mark Yates with what he saw at Cardiff, saying “At Cardiff the manager didn’t even give youngsters a chance to go anywhere near the first team, even in training.”.

I must say that I was not surprised in the slightest by what Yorwerth had to say because it only confirmed the impression I’d formed over the past thirteen months about our manager’s attitude towards young players. Of course, in the interests of balance, I need to say here that my view is formed entirely as an outsider who never sees what happens on the training pitch and that, by its very nature, youth development takes time and so, if changes are being made under this manager, it will not be clear if they’ve worked or not for some time yet.

Even so, yesterday’s game is the tip on an iceberg which, for me, has seen a slight decline in standards on the playing front at Under 18 and 21 levels since Russell Slade was appointed and I firmly believe that any measured and impartial analysis of the job he has done so far at Cardiff would have to conclude that he is coming up short when it comes to getting the best out of the Academy system he inherited, both in terms of utilising the players within it and getting value for money from it.

I suppose I should say a bit about what actually happened yesterday (it won’t take long!) before finishing. After a quiet opening few minutes, City’s defence went through a torrid spell which saw Wakeman come to Ajayi’s rescue as he was out very quickly to dive at an opponent’s feet after the defender’s underhit and careless back pass. A minute later the keeper did well to turn aside a free kick given for a foul after City had, again, given the ball away needlessly on the edge of their own penalty area, but he was unable to bail out Turner when his backpass gave a Barnsley striker the chance to advance and confidently slot home.

For a long period after that, City offered no goal threat whatsoever, apart from a cross by left back Dylan Rees which gently hit a post after everyone had missed it, but, if they did have a dominant spell in the game, it came in the minutes before half time. Given the lack of creativity on show, it was no surprise that Barnsley only looked like losing their lead from dead ball situations and, when they came under sustained pressure as the interval approached, decent deliveries from Kennedy saw right back Ashley Baker (who has a good record for scoring from free kicks and corners) denied by a clearance off the line and Turner by the whistle of a referee, who always seemed very keen to penalise the attacking side at set pieces, after his emphatic header had found the net.

For the whole of the second half a limited Barnsley outfit had little trouble keeping City out – indeed, the only attacking “highlight” of the half I can remember came when one of the subs ballooned a shot over from about fifteen yards out.

The closing minutes saw Barnsley given more room to exploit as City pushed men forward in the search of an equaliser and Wakeman was forced into another good save before being given no chance with a well placed shot from fifteen yards to seal the victory – there was not even time to restart the match after that and so the fifty or so spectators were finally put out of their misery!

This entry was posted in The stiffs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to As bad as I’ve seen from the Under 21s.

  1. Your very interesting and thoughtful report put the question of young players at Cardiff in a nutshell : is it the players’ lack of innate ability, or are they receiving poor coaching? I wish I knew, but a sustained recruitment programme of talented Welsh youngsters seems ever more necessary. Even more than half a century ago, when I had a trial at Cardiff and played the worst game of my life, the best recruiters of talent in South Wales were not Cardiff but Bristol Rovers, and the father of Ken Leeke was especially active as a scout. Nevertheless, there were always plenty of local players who made it through to the first team at Cardiff, and if this were still the case I’m sure that attendance figures would rise, along with the enthusiasm of the crowd. Russell Slade has missed the boat in terms of giving younger players a chance, but surely a coherent and effective youth recruitment scheme should be any club’s priority, with the added objective of giving younger players an opportunity whenever possible. I’m afraid the ethos at the club seems to be: “Let’s not lose” rather “Let’s go all out for a win”.

  2. The other Bob Wilson says:

    It’s good to receive a reply to one of these type of pieces – thanks AMO.
    I can remember those days when around half of the Bristol Rovers teams we faced would consist of players from South East Wales – I realised pretty early on than I didn’t have the talent to become a pro footballer and so didn’t bother myself, but I can remember several of my friends being given trials by Rovers (they ended up signing Phi Bater and Jon Moore from my year at Cantonian). To be fair to City, they did sign Peter Sayer from the year in front of me at school, but I can’t think of anyone else who even got a trial with us.
    I’ve just finished helping someone with a project which involved me going to the library to obtain information from the local press about games City played in the mid 50s when they became a fairly well established First Division club. It was fascinating to read about matches like Cardiff 1 Wolves 9 and the reverse match at Molineux which we won, but it also confirmed what I already knew – there was a substantial number of locally born players who were either signed from junior clubs in South Wales or had come up through the ranks at the club in our squad.
    Although I never saw the side play. the results they achieved argue very strongly that they were better than any of the ones built in the past fifteen years when the attitude has tended to be to throw money about when a player is required, rather than look to the youth ranks for a possible solution.
    If they had been around in the mid 50s, would the likes of Gareth Bale and Craig Bellamy have ended up with City? I tend to think they would have, but the world is a much smaller place these days and, even if we had a very good youth system, I think we would have to accept that some local young talent will always be out of our reach.
    I mentioned on here a couple of weeks ago that Russell Slade had confused me with some of his remarks about youth recruitment. I think what he was saying was along the lines of your comments about a “coherent and effective youth recruitment scheme” and, if that is the case, then I’m all in favour of it. One of the problems I have with this manager though is that, apart from Moses Odubajo at Leyton Orient, I cannot find examples of him promoting youngsters into the first team at the clubs he has managed (I’m not saying for certain that it hasn’t happened, just that I can’t find examples of it) – even if Russell Slade stayed long enough to see us develop the sort of youth recruitment system you talk about, I’m not too sure that he would be the best person to take advantage of it.

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    I never add my two pennyworth to your commendable efforts to keep us informed on the potential City stars of tomorrow.
    Not sure, really. Laziness…?
    Moi? Surely not?!
    So instead, try this idea on for size…
    A bit like Buddy Holly’s death being for Don McLean, “the day the music died”, so the day when we abandoned longitudinal end-to-end football for the LATERAL game and an obsession with numbered formations, was the day when the Beautiful Game began to die for me.
    Football is going to hell in a handcart…albeit a gold-plated one courtesy of Rupert Murdoch who will film its final moments and death rattle from 17 different cameras.
    So perhaps that is why I stay shtum on the affairs of the development team.
    Right…preamble over.
    Let me deal with the other aspect of your above words that really prompted me to write this…i.e. the modern inability to capture all the local talent on our South Wales doorstep.
    You are of course right.
    But my only quibble is that it was Ever Thus…
    Yes, we had lots of South Walians in our squad when last in the top flight. When the very great Danny Malloy was scandalously let go, he was replaced by a Splott boy, Frank Rankmore. Likewise, when the brilliant Steve Gammon had his career finished by a rash tackle by Denis Law, we replaced him with a very talented, fellow Swansea boy, Barrie Hole.
    But lots of South Wales talent were stolen from the nest by the big English clubs, even back then.
    Derek Tapscott was shining for Barry Town, but Cardiff ignored him…and let the Arsenal spirit him away.
    Mel Hopkins was taken to White Hart Lane from his youth club team in Mid-Rhondda. And it was not just Cardiff City missing out.
    The Swans failed to sign up a boy from Winch Wen called Jack Kelsey, and Arsenal pounced. And around the same time, committed the biggest crime of all…they let the stupendous John Charles be stolen from them by Leeds.
    Talking of Kelsey just there..
    A generation later, his next door neighbour in Winch Wen was to be another youth stolen by Leeds.
    Gary Sprake.
    And so it has continued to the present day.
    Along the way, there have been startling examples of myopia from City…none worse than constantly clocking the scoring talents of a lad at Penydarren Park and still letting him go to Craven Cottage…where he is a legend to this day.
    Gordon Davies.
    (Oh Gordon…BENNETT. Look at the time! I must get back to sleep.)
    Just let me add one final sentence, and it is a chance for me to state the obvious. And it is this…
    The real game-changer is the fact that SKY and BT money has made England a Klondike for foreign players…and they have swamped the marketplace…to the inevitable detriment of local talent.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Sorry Dai, I should have replied to your message earlier.
    Fair point, there have been plenty of talented players from south east Wales who have escaped City’s net, but, for the majority of my lifetime, you would think that City were doing something wrong if there were only two Welshmen in the team, now you could be forgiven for thinking that they were actively discouraged.
    I think I’ve mentioned the amazing quiz question Richard Holt asked on one of the City messageboards on here before, but even if I have, it warrants repeating in the context of the subject being discussed. From memory. it read “what only happened six times at Cardiff City in the twentieth century, but happened thirty nine times in season 14/15 alone? The answer is that no Welshman took to the field for City during a league game. Last season, Declan John started two matches and came on as a sub in four others and Danny Gabbidon came on for all of a minute during the match at Birmingham and that was it as far as Welshman playing for us went last season. This time around, it’s even worse – Declan came on for a minute or two at Preston (we didn’t even play a Welshman in our two early round League Cup matches). Maybe the Football League went ahead and announced their daft change of name to the English Football League on the basis that the senior Welsh club in their competition appear to be set on ignoring their heritage?
    You got it right about foreign players swamping the market place, but I’d argue that they, and, of course the Sky/BT money, have created a culture whereby developing young players is not encouraged because it requires a degree of patience that is no longer accepted – this applies to Cardiff City as much as, if not more than, most clubs in our division.

Comments are closed.