I might think they sound shrewd at the time, but most of my utterances during a game about how it is going and how it’ll end up turn out to be complete and utter rubbish. Occasionally though, I get things right and that rare event happened last night at Cardiff City Development team’s game with Gillingham in a Second Round Under 21’s Premier League Cup tie.
As Anthony Bell’s shot rebounded back off the post a minute or so into the second half, I proclaimed “that’s it, we’re never going to score tonight, we’re going to lose this”. About twenty five minutes later Gillingham grabbed the only goal of the game in one of their very isolated attacks and City’s Under 21s, who had been unbeaten this season until a week ago, had lost their second consecutive match.
However, although a defeat by a side whose first team are struggling in the division below us will be reported as some sort of giant killing act, there were mitigating circumstances behind this so called shock result. Firstly, with another game at this level arranged against Chelsea tomorrow, it was an odd looking side consisting of senior players (Ben Turner, Declan John, Mats Dæhli and Javi Guerra), current Academy team members (Robbie Patten and Eli Phipps) and players who are too old now for the Under 18’s, but not normally first choice selections at this level (Ben Wilson, Brad Wickham, Curtis Watkins, Bradley Williams and Anthony Bell) which was selected.
The likes of Jazzi Barnum-Bobb, Josh Yorwerth, Tom James, Maximiliano Amondarain, Theo Wharton, Tommy O’Sullivan and Jaye Bowen would normally have played in such a game , but, presumably, most of them will be in action against Chelsea as could Magnus Eikrem, Juan Cala and Etien Velikonja among the older players – you never know, Kadeem Harris and Guido Bergstaller (both of whom appear to have dropped off the face of the earth in recent weeks) may also get a run out – while I’m on the subject of tomorrow’s match, it seems that Richie Towell, a 23 year old former Republic of Irleand Under 21 international midfield player whose contract at Dundalk expires on Friday, will be given an opportunity to try and earn a deal with us.
So, rather in the way that so many clubs field weakened senior sides for domestic cup matches these days, City picked a team some way short of the strongest they could have put out at this level.
Also, there’s no explaining this, but sometimes a team is fated to lose, no matter what they try, you just know that the opposition that has been hanging on for an hour or more are going to break down field and get a sucker punch goal.
To be fair to Gillingham, it would be wrong to put their win solely down to luck. Their experienced goalkeeper Glen Morris had a very good night before being forced off with an injury with about a quarter of an hour left, they got any number of defensive blocks in to deny City just as it seemed their defence was going to be opened up and their goal was well constructed and finished. Even so, if the sort of statistical analysis for first team matches were available for games at this level, I’m sure it would show City well ahead in terms of possession, goal attempts (on and off target).corners etc.
The pattern of the game was set inside the first minute when City forced a corner. Bell’s generally good dead ball delivery ensured that Ben Turner won a lot of headers all night and some in the crowd were cheering a goal from that first corner but the header didn’t have the power required to beat Morris who held onto the ball just before it crossed the line.
For a spell after that, things got scrappy with both sides cancelling each other out, but, after Gillingham had wasted a good chance as centre forward Millbank fired wide from about ten yards out after the visitors had got in down City’s right, the home side got on top.
John fizzed a shot across the face of goal, Morris again had to flop onto an effort that looked to be going in, Williams shot wide after being put into a good position by some neat passing and Bell was not far off at all with a well struck shot after weaving past three or four opponents, but it was Guerra who came closest to breaking the deadlock after Wickham’s fine run and subsequent cross found the unmarked Spaniard (who put the effort in this time that was missing against Bournemouth a month ago) only for his header to be a bit too close to Morris who was able to push the ball on to the post and out.
Those weren’t the only times a goal looked to be on either, but Gillingham got to half time still level. Bell’s low shot against the upright that I mentioned earlier began the second period on the same note as the first half had ended, but, truth be told, although Gillingham still had to absorb a lot of pressure, they were a little more comfortable than they had been. City, with Abdi Noor a half time replacement for Dæhli, still had their chances when, for example, Phipps’ well struck shot forced Morris into action and Noor’s goalbound shot was deflected wide, but Guerra’s replacement by defender Ashley Baker with twenty five minutes left seemed a strange decision at the time and didn’t look any less so as the minutes ticked by – I can understand the need not to overwork someone like Dæhli who will probably be involved on Saturday, but surely, Guerra needs as much game time as he can get at the moment?
This was especially true after Gillingham took the lead with about twenty minutes when City’s second string showed themselves to be as poor as their senior colleagues at keeping clean sheets (just like the first team, they’ve only kept one so far this season). As mentioned earlier, Gillingham passed the ball neatly enough to fashion the chance, but it was all a little bit too easy for them – I don’t know who scored I’m afraid, but it was from a well hit shot from the edge of the penalty area that Wilson (who had virtually nothing else to do) had no chance of saving and it made me smile at least to see virtually the whole of the Gillingham team follow the scorer in celebrating right in front of the completely empty away fans seats.
Apart from that one shot in the first half, it was the first time the visitors had looked like creating anything, but, within a minute or two they might have had a penalty when Turner clashed with Millbank – it certainly fell into the “I’ve seen them given” category as far as I was concerned.
Declan John was moved to left wing (I still think this might turn out to be his best position) in the rearrangement following Guerra’s withdrawal and the Wales international represented City’s best hope of getting back on terms as Gillingham closed in on their win – when Morris picked up the injury which was to force him off as he collided with a team mate as Noor chased a through pass, John got to the loose ball, stepped past an opponent and his shot looked destined for the net only for the stricken keeper to push the ball out for a corner. John was also not too far wide with a long range free kick, while replacement keeper Hadler knocked a fairly tame Noor shot into the sort of area that a goal poacher like Guerra may have been able to take advantage of.
Williams had the ball in the net late on, but it looked to me as if the linesman was correct to raise his flag and give him offside and Ben Turner ended the game playing up front – he must have won something like about 80% of the headers he had to go for in the game, but, there was a lack of precision in the balls that were knocked up to him which meant he was never able to offer the same threat as he had done from set pieces.
The Gillingham teams loud celebrations at the final whistle showed just what the win meant to them and good luck to them in the rest of this tournament.
This was only the second Development team game I’ve seen this season and, in contrast to the previous two seasons where they invariably won, I’ve yet to see them score this year. Having sat through much the same sort of game when the Under 18’s lost to Brentford on Saturday and then watched the first team’s latest lamentable away showing a few hours later, I must admit that 14/15 is not up there among my favourite City seasons at the moment!
by The other Bob Wilson with 3 comments
I’m struggling to explain why, but I found last night’s Under 21 Development team game between Cardiff City and Queens Park Rangers far more enjoyable than I would have expected considering that it finished goalless and you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the deadlock was seriously threatened with being broken at either end of the pitch. I’m not under exaggerating (if there is such a term?) there either – I can only really think of four times (two for each team) when I thought to myself there might be a goal on here.
Yet, somehow, the match kept my attention throughout. Looking at it from a City perspective, perhaps it did so because there was something to admire about the way they managed to keep QPR at bay during spells in the second half in particular where it looked like the visitors were beginning to take control as the play kept on heading towards their goal, perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it was was a very young and somewhat under strength side that was fielded or perhaps it was because there were a couple of excellent performances from home players on the night?
A look at the team sheet as I entered the ground confirmed the suspicion that some members of what would be considered City’s first choice Development side would be missing because they were, in all likelihood, going to be included in the first team squad for today’s League Cup match at Port Vale. Based on the team fielded last night, I would expect all or most of the following to be in the eighteen for tonight’s game – Jazzi Barnum Bobb, Tom James, Deji Oshilaja, Kane Owen, Joe Ralls, Tommy O’Sullivan and Kadeem Harris because none of them were in the sixteen named against QPR.
So, for last night’s match, it was a City team some way below the strength of the one I would normally expect to compete at this level. It has to be said mind, that, with QPR having their own League Cup tie at Burton tomorrow night, the same could probably be said about their team. Certainly, there were very few names I recognised in their line up – Frankie Sutherland and Bruno Andrade rang a bell as players who might have featured for their first team and I presumed that right back Darnell Furlong was a relative of their former striker, Paul Furlong.
The game got off to a fairly cautious start with both sides sizing each other up. As so often is the case with our youngsters, they were up against opponents who were, generally, taller than them, but, City’s central midfield three of Macauley Southam, Jaye Bowen and captain Theo Wharton were able to nullify this physical disadvantage with some neat footwork and passing which helped launch counter attacks which suggested that City could catch their opponents out as the game went on.
Unfortunately, that never really happened for City – although they were always competitive in the middle of the park, the visitors got stronger in that area and this helped them enjoy a slight superiority which lasted for much of the last three quarters of the game.
However, this was not reflected in terms of efforts on target from QPR. Indeed, for all of their pressure in the opening forty five minutes, a goal only really looked on when Olomide Shodipo forced new keeper Charlie Horton into a sharp low save and then Horton was up quickly to smother a follow up effort at the expense of a corner. Up the other end, Tyler Roche had an effort blocked, but it was when Rhys Healey (looking stronger than last season and generally more aware of what was going on around him) did well to control a high ball and burst clear of his marker, that it looked like City might open the scoring – unfortunately, Healey had to shoot from quite a tight angle and his shot went across the face of goal and wide.
The second half started in misleading fashion when Josh Yorwerth forced QPR keeper Neil Etheridge into his first save of the night when the centreback got his head to a corner – it was a routine catch of a ball that was heading straight at him, but, from memory, it was one two only saves Etheridge had to make all night.
The reason I used the word “misleading” there is because, from then on, QPR were dominant for the next twenty minutes or so. It seemed that they were under instructions to press City more when they were in possession and it bore fruit in that the visitors were able to force us to knock the ball long or gain possession in advanced areas – the upshot was the ball kept on coming back at City and you wondered whether a goal was coming.
However, although there were a few moments when the ball bobbed around dangerously in our penalty area, I can only remember one occasion when I thought we were going to concede and this came when Horton started to come for a through ball and then stopped to leave Jordan Gibbons the chance of a fairly easy lob over the keeper – Gibbons’ effort lacked composure though and flew well over the bar.
City’s defending at first team level this season has drawn quite a bit of praise and the reason why QPR were unable to cash in on their superiority was that the youngsters followed the example of their seniors and showed a lot of heart, and no little skill, to keep their goal intact. Everyone played their part in the defensive effort, but it was the back four of Ben Watkins (playing out of position at right back), Maxi Amondarain, Josh Yorwerth and David Tutonda who excelled during this period.
In the closing stages, City were able to lift the siege on their goal somewhat. Healey, rather selfishly, went for goal and his bobbler forced Etheridge into his second save, but, when Tyler burst clear down the right as the match went into added time and crossed low into the six yard area, the striker was inches away from making contact – if he had done then I’m sure he would have scored.
That was as close as City came all game and this tends to prove the point that they didn’t deserve to win – if either team did, then I’d say it was QPR, but, overall, a draw seemed a fair result in a game between two hard working teams who had their limitations on the creative front.
I’ll finish with a few words about three City players. I was looking forward to seeing new signing Danny Johnson play, but, surprisingly, City chose to employ someone who scored more than fifty goals last season in a wide left position in a five man midfield – Johnson ended up making little impact and was eventually withdrawn, but it would be good to see him play in the position where he attracted our interest in the first place.
Three years ago, Declan John had a poor time of it in what turned out to be his final season in the Academy team – the winger, who had been hailed as one of our best prospects, was nearly always substituted in the games I saw him play and, given his lack of impact, it was hard to argue with this treatment. It seemed Declan was struggling to go make the transformation from promising kid to young professional, but his switch to left back did the trick and he is now the closest of our Academy scholars to being a first team regular.
Much the same type of thing happened last season to winger Tyler Roche – the speed merchant who had left full backs floundering in his wake when I first saw him play at Under 16 and Under 18 level had turned into a diffident performer who appeared to lack confidence and, like John before him, was often an obvious candidate to be “hooked”. Maybe he wasn’t 100% cent fit, but something wasn’t right and, to be honest, I was a little surprised when I read he’d been given a pro contract.
Roche’s struggles last season were nearly all in the Under 18 side, so you would hardly expect him to prosper when he stepped up a level to the Under 21’s, but he was back to his best last night – he had visiting left back Cole Kpekawa on toast most of the time and also looked dangerous when he switched to the left. Roche will have no problems at Under 21 level if he keeps this level of performance up and it was good to see the player who struck me as the best prospect we had in his age group looking more like his old self.
With a performance like that, Roche would have been my City man of the match most weeks, but I thought Josh Yorwerth just shaded him. With about ten minutes left, Yorwerth gave the ball away and QPR broke for an attack which, luckily for him, came to nothing, so he wasn’t faultless, but he had been up until then and he was in the time that remained. Yorwerth was a towering presence throughout – composed on the ball, timing his tackles and interceptions perfectly and all in all making life very frustrating for his opponents (on this form, you have to wonder if we really do need another centre back).by The other Bob Wilson with 4 comments