Once or twice a season the Academy Under 18 side gets the chance to lord it on the big stage which is Cardiff City Stadium instead of slumming it on what can often resemble windy wastelands at Leckwith Stadium or Treforest. Often in the past, our kids have not coped well with this step up, but they certainly did last night as they almost managed to raise the body temperatures of the watching spectators (the nearly full car park outside the main entrance suggested it might have reached four figures) to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit by coming up with was was probably the most noteworthy result for our youth team since they beat Manchester United 5-1 in 2007.
I suppose there’s been a score of Cardiff 6 Swansea 1 at some level in the long history of matches between the two South Wales rivals before, but it’s certainly never happened at senior level and last night’s win came as a complete shock because the Under 18′s have hardly been racking up the wins lately (there had been only one of them since the end of October). Yet, the final score didn’t flatter them at all – in fact, you got the impression that they eased off somewhat after racing into a 5-0 lead after 47 minutes.
The game started with a bitterly cold wind blowing through the stadium (unusual for the new ground which is designed in a way which normally reduces the impact of the strongest of gales), but it never became too much of a factor because both sides tried, by and large, to keep the ball on the deck. In the first few minutes Swansea did a pretty passable impression of their first team as they dominated possession, but that spell was broken, and never returned, once visiting goalkeeper Oliver Davies’ weak kick out landed at the feet of Anthony Bell some thirty five yards out and he struck an immediate shot which forced Davies into a diving save.
City almost scored from the resultant corner, but they weren’t to be denied for long and took the lead after ten minutes when my Man of the Match Tommy O’Sullivan cleverly worked himself some space and placed a fine left foot shot from the edge of the penalty area high up into the net beyond Davies. Three minutes later the lead was doubled – new signing Rhys Healey had already shown that he possessed a decent long throw and his second one saw Josh Yorwerth, I think it was, glance a header home as Davies rued his decision to come off his line to deal with things. It wasn’t all one way traffic, a fluent move down their left by Swansea ended with a close range shot which beat David Richards in the Cardiff goal, but flew inches wide and about ten minutes later, captain Kane Owen was grateful to Yorwerth for a great block of a goalbound shot after he had lost possession by the corner flag.
City were 3-0 up by this time though, with Rhys Healey scoring his first goal for the club with a neat finish from six yards as he converted a cross from the right after Swansea appeals for offside were turned down. After their quickfire start, City found chances harder to come by in the second quarter, but they always seemed to be capable of stepping things up when they wanted to – an example of this was shown about five minutes before the break, when O’Sullivan received a short free kick on the edge of the penalty area and looked set to try and get a repeat of his fine goal, but, instead, he chose to drift a clever pass into the middle where Yorwerth arrived unmarked to stab in from about eight yards.
Four goals behind at the interval, Swansea might have entertained hopes of “winning” the second half, but even that consolation looked beyond them when Anthony Bell made it 5-0 with a crisp left foot shot from twenty yards after Healey had been dispossessed in the act of shooting. As mentioned earlier, the match tended to meander along after this – Healey probably should have scored when Bell put him through, but Davies made his best save of the night to foil him and Swansea cashed in on what appeared to be some confusion in the City ranks as to who was supposed to be playing where after Yorwerth and Wharton were replaced by Ben Watkins and Thomas James around the hour mark, when centre forward Alex Samuel scored from point blank range following a corner.
Cramp became a factor for some City players as the effects of playing on such a big pitch for, perhaps, the first time in their lives were seen – Bell was replaced by Jay Bowen and right winger Dane Griffiths was switched to centre forward as he found the going tough. However, Healey, who had moved to the right to accommodate this change, then broke forward as the game went into it’s last ten minutes and put over a fine low cross which Griffiths swept home to complete the scoring.
I thought City’s dominance stemmed from their central midfield trio – Bradley Williams was strong, hard working and technically good, but it was Wharton and O’Sullivan, with their ability to beat their opponent in confined spaces and pass the ball effectively and accurately, who really took the eye. Both of these players are now used as much by the Under 21 side as they are by the Under 18′s and, at times, O’Sullivan in particular has found it hard to cope against bigger and stronger opponents, but they have shown before that they were both good players at this level and the benefits of performing regularly at the next step up were clear here – they were a class apart.
Finally, a word on our signing from Connahs Quay, Rhys Healey – based on this one showing, I think his former manager was being optimistic when he said he would be challenging for a first team place within a year of signing for us, but his clever movement, surprising strength for his size, neat control and lay off’s and appreciation of what was happening around him say he’s got a chance of making that step up one day.by The other Bob Wilson
After a poor weekend for what is portrayed by large sections of the media as Wales’ national game, the nations’ real number one sport enjoyed a better time of it yesterday with the senior team beating Austria 2-1 in a game that was more competitive and entertaining than most such fixtures (especially at this time of year) turn out to be, while a few hours earlier, a flurry of late goals helped the Under 21′s to a 3-0 win over their Icelandic counterparts at Llanelli. By winning their second match in three, the senior side at least ensured they will be going into their World Cup qualifying matches in Scotland and at home to Croatia in a fairly confident frame of mind, but, in truth, they were pretty fortunate to come out on top against lively and enterprising opponents.
There were plus points for Chris Coleman to consider. Boaz Myhill had a good game in goal and, apart from their habit of leaving Austrian players unmarked from free kicks, the defence coped pretty well with Sam Ricketts doing enough at centreback to offer the manager a decent option in the position if he still thinks Darcy Blake isn’t fit enough for reserve team football and he believes James Collins is likely to continue his habit of making very expensive mistakes in important matches. As usual, Gareth Bale was unplayable at times and Craig Bellamy was a surprisingly effective lone striker in the first half when Wales looked very dangerous on the counter attack on occasions (Sam Vokes didn’t do badly up front after the break either).
In midfield though, it turned out to be a pretty good evening for Aaron Ramsey. The man who I still rate as our best player in this area was withdrawn as a precaution by Chris Coleman because of a calf injury and, in his absence, Wales’ ball retention was embarrassingly poor at times when you consider that there were four Premiership players and one who is a regular for a side which is in the last sixteen of the Champions League in there. That’s not to say that they were all poor individually – I’ve already mentioned how good Bale was and the pass Joe Allen played through to him for the first goal was a beauty, but, as a unit, it was worse than you’d expect from such a group of players.
There’s not much else I can say about the match, so I thought I’d broaden things to include Cardiff City. When I was watching the Under 21′s play so well in beating Bristol City on Monday night, I found myself thinking that, leaving the re-brand controversy aside for now, there had not been a better time to be a City supporter in the last half a century. The first team are in their best league position in that time and on Monday night a team featuring none of the eighteen who made up the squad at Leeds looked so good in a match where the victory margin could easily have been doubled – there is a depth of talent at the club now that I don’t think I’ve seen previously in my time as a supporter.
However, here’s a few facts for you to consider. Apart from Craig Bellamy, who could still play at a higher level than the top of the Championship if he were so minded, not one Cardiff City player featured for Wales at senior or Under 21 level yesterday – in fact, when the squads for yesterday’s matches were originally named, they only included one other Cardiff player in Theo Wharton (and he was only on stand by for the Under 21′s). Furthermore, the twenty nine players comprising the eighteen at Leeds and the starting eleven on Monday only included two Welsh born players and one of those wouldn’t be here under “normal” circumstances!
I’ve seen a lot of Declan John this season and he has come on leaps and bounds – at the moment, the idea of him becoming a first team regular at Cardiff City does not seem an outlandish one, but no other Welsh born youngster was considered good enough to merit inclusion amongst those twenty nine players I referred to earlier. So, does this, together with the lack of Cardiff representation in the national set up, mean that the club is failing in terms of recruiting the best local young talent?
Before trying to answer that, I think it’s relevant to ask if it’s that important if we aren’t? After all, with a benefactor that is willing to splash the cash to recruit talent on a worldwide basis, is it that important that there is a nucleus of home grown talent in the first team – for example, are, say, Norwich and Ipswich fans asking why their sides don’t contain more local boys? Don’t ask me to explain this in any detail because I can’t really, but I would argue that our situation as a Welsh club in an English league system means that there should be an onus on us having some Welsh representation in the team – one of the very few disappointing aspects of Malky Mackay’s time in charge for me has been that the number of Welsh players in first team contention has gone down fairly significantly since he took over.
To be fair to the club and our manager, all five subs on Monday night were Welsh and, although I’m not sure about Declan John’s current contract situation, two of those subs, Wharton and Tommy O’Sullivan have signed pro deals with the club. Also, it strikes me that the higher a club goes up the English game’s pyramid structure, the harder it becomes for locally born talent to break through into the team. Are there any clubs in the Premiership currently with a reputation for placing their faith in their Academy products on a consistent basis – I suppose Reading and Southampton might fall into that category, but that situation may well change if their stays in the top flight are extended by a season or two.
On balance, I think it’s probably most likely that the crop of Welsh born talent we had at the club who would currently be in the age range of 19 to 21 was not a rich one and this explains it’s lack of recognition at club and country level. Those players who formed the majority of the side that beat England 4-0 in the Victory Shield two seasons ago are not at that age yet and it’s probably instructive that of the six players who have represented Wales at senior level recently who would call Cardiff City their local club, Chris Gunter, Joe Ledley and Darcy Blake started their careers with us, while City did very well to get Aaron Ramsey to sign his first pro deal with City.
Tellingly, the two locally born players we didn’t get are the ones who would currently be classed as the best of the sextet. Given where we were when Craig Bellamy signed his first contract with a club, it’s no surprise whatsoever that he didn’t start off at Cardiff and Gareth Bale’s association with Southampton probably went back to the days when we were two divisions (at least) below them. I suppose the big question which would truly gauge where we are now in terms of youth recruitment and coaching is what would be our chances of getting a couple of nine years from Cardiff with the potential to be another Craig Bellamy or Gareth Bale to hook up with us? It has to be higher than it was a decade ago and if we were a Premiership club when a decision had to be made about those two boys’ future, then you’d like to think we’d have as good a chance as anybody of getting them.by The other Bob Wilson