I’d figured out exactly how we were going to stay up this season – all the club had to do was pay for me to get to all of our remaining away matches and we’d be safe. No, this wasn’t me trying to con my way into getting to places like Newcastle and Sunderland, this was what looked to be a sure fire method of ensuring we would be in the Premier League next season. The reasoning behind my plan for us dodging the drop hinged on the fact that, suddenly, in football supporter terms anyway, everything I touched was turning to gold!
Somewhere along the line, I’d done or said something which had transformed City’s fortunes – as long as I was there in the flesh watching them. In the two days between the Hull City debacle on 22 February and the Under 21′s match with Charlton the following Monday evening, I’d inadvertently done the thing that was going to make all of the difference. What else could explain the fact that, since the Hull game, I had watched six matches (one City Under 16′s, 2 x Under 18′s, one Under 21, a first team match and a Wales international) and the team I had been supporting had won them all, with the one one game I’d not been present at (Spurs) having been lost.
So it was, I set off to Cardiff City Stadium yesterday lunchtime utterly confident that I would see out table topping Under 21 Development side beat bottom of the league Ipswich in their latest home game (the Under 21′s have a formidable record at Cardiff City Stadium as well).
The first inkling I got that things might not go to plan came when I saw the team sheet that was given to me as I entered the ground. Recently it seems that I have to write that the Under 21 side I’d just watched was the most inexperienced I’d seen us play at this level after every match I go to and that trend continued yesterday. Kadeem Harris (who had played for the first hour in that Charlton match I mentioned earlier) was missing, he was replaced by Anthony Bell, and we had someone called Robbie Cotton, a name which meant nothing to me, wearing the number eight shirt – I’ve subsequently done some research and it seems Cotton was formerly at Blackburn.
So, City’s side was, again, without any of the three over age outfield players they are allowed in this competition, but to be fair, there was only one familiar name in the Ipswich line up – Alan Lee, who is now combining playing with a coaching role at their Academy was leading the visitor’s attack.
What turned out to be an entertaining match in the Sunday lunchtime sun started off with City looking the sharper as Rhys Healey, seeking to add his excellent goalscoring record at this level this season, did well to get a shot away from a difficult angle which flew not too far wide and then Bell also didn’t miss by much with an effort from around twenty yards. With City only looking to have Josh Yorwerth physically equipped to cope with Lee and the two giant centrebacks in the visitor’s line up, Ipswich appeared to have an advantage from dead ball situations around the City goal and they came very close to exploiting this when centre half Omar Sowumni got his head to a free kick – it looked like a certain goal as keeper Ben Wilson was beaten and an Ipswich forward closed in to apply the finishing touch, but in a move which was very like Emerson Boyce’s matchwinning clearance for Wigan in their win at Man City a few hours later, Tom James did brilliantly to not only stop the ball going in, but also get it over the bar for a corner from only a yard or two out.
Ipswich did threaten at times in the first half after that, but never came as close to getting the first goal again, whereas City got on top in the minutes before the break with visiting keeper Michael Crowe doing well to keep Tommy O’Sullivan’s effort out, Healey having his effort blocked for a corner after intercepting a back pass and a combination of Crowe and one of his defenders denying Jaye Bowen.
It was something of a surprise that the match was still goalless at half time and the early signs were that the second period might not be as open as the first had been. The first fifteen minutes or so after the break only produced one opportunity for either side which both featured Ipswich centreback Matt Clarke -the first coming when he missed his header right in front of the City goal from about six yards out when he came up for a free kick and the second when he fired a Kane Owen cross towards his own net only for the ball to fortunately hit Crowe from point blank range and fly to safety.
After that freakish escape for the visitors I began to wonder if the game would ever see a goal when three of them came along in the space of about four minutes! For the first of them, Ipswich right back and captain Kyle Hammond did really well to go past three opponents and cross low from the bye line for Amir Berkane to fire low into the net for the visitors to go into a lead which flattered them on the balance of play. However, within less than a minute, they looked well on their way to the three points when another fine cross (this time from the left) enabled Lee to show his far post heading ability with an effort which was placed to perfection beyond Wilson to double the Ipswich lead.
Lee had been warned for use of the elbows on Yorwerth when they contested a high ball in the first half (it was the sort of incident which would have had the home crowd baying for a red card in a first team match, but in these more “genteel” surroundings, all that happened was that he got a lecture from the ref without seeing a card of any colour) and it typified an interesting physical battle between the two of them in which the City youngster did not back away an inch – Lee went off to applause shortly afterwards and gave the crowd an Ayatollah as he departed the pitch.
Facing their first home defeat of the season, City pushed Tommy O’Sullivan forward from midfield to accompany Healey and he got the goal needed virtually straight away when he broke clear from a Theo Wharton pass to round Crowe and calmly find the net.
With the game still not yet in it’s final quarter, it seemed that there was plenty of time for City to turn level things up and even go on to win, but, surprisingly, chances for either side were at a premium after that as the clock ticked towards the ninety minute mark and, as the match went into added time there had only been a shot which flew just wide with Wilson beaten by Ipwich’s impressive winger Darren McQueen which threatened a goal.
For me, City had fallen into the trap of knocking in too many high crosses that were food and drink to the Ipwsich centrebacks and I couldn’t see them getting on terms, but, not for the first time (and certainly not for the last!), my opinion was proved to be completely wrong when James touched on a Luke Coulson cross which sub Dane Griffiths volleyed home in style to rescue a point with about a minute left of the four which had been signalled on the fourth official’s board.
City had done well to rescue a point which, for now at least, stretches their lead at the top to eight points, but my master plan for keeping us up was in tatters and it’s back to the drawing board now I’m afraid!
* picture courtesy of http://www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk/by The other Bob Wilson with 2 comments
There haven’t been many of the goal filled romps we saw last season in home matches for the Under 21 side this time around – they’ve invariably been tight affairs contested by evenly matches teams. As to why it’s been harder going for the Development team this season, I think you only need to look at the fact that in 12/13 there was always a nucleus of experienced over age players selected as the rule that said four over 21′s (one of whom, had to be a goalkeeper) could be selected was nearly always utilised.
Filip Kiss and Etien Velikonja were regular starters in last year’s team and at various times you had people like Ben Turner, Craig Conway, Rudi Gestede and Joe Lewis being selected, while first team members who were still young enough to be included like Joe Mason and Jordon Mutch often featured as well. This time around, the reliance has, increasingly, been on youngsters not long out of the Academy – I’m not sure whether this is a deliberate policy, but the large number of players we have sent out on loan probably means that we would be unable to field sides as experienced as last year’s even if we wanted to.
It’s to the youngsters credit then that, with one exception, they have found ways to win their league matches at Cardiff City Stadium this season. This applies particularly to last night’s 1-0 victory over a Charlton side which beat them in the Final of the end of season Play Offs back in May and it was all the more praiseworthy that they did so with the most inexperienced team I’ve seen us field at this level.
Having Kadeem Harris back for his first start since returning from the injury which ended his very successful loan spell at Brentford helped, but Ben Wilson, Bradley Williams, Dane Griffiths and Tom James are novices at this level (I’m pretty sure it was a first start for the Under 21′s for the last two named) and so the likes of Luke Coulson, Josh Yorwerth, captain Theo Wharton, Tommy O’Sullivan and Rhys Healey found themselves cast as the “old heads” charged with guiding their team through what was something of a new experience for around half of the squad named.
City were immediately into their stride once the game finally kicked off after a delay of twenty minutes or so. The feeling among the people sat by me was that the delay was down to a couple of faulty sprinklers which could not be switched off, but, given the way Charlton started, you got the impression that it was their late arrival which had caused it. The visitors struggled to find their bearings in the first two or three minutes and could have found themselves three down in no time as, first, keeper Dillion Phillips foiled Healey in a one on one, then O’Sullivan fired narrowly wide from twenty yards and then Dillon was grateful to see a short range shot fly straight at him after Harris had beaten his man to get to the bye line and provide the cross.
Maybe Healey’s chance came too early in the game, because it was the sort of opportunity he has been putting away all season, but, whatever the reason, it was one of the things that characterised a sloppy start by the striker who constantly misplaced passes to present possession to the visitors. Whatever was afflicting Healey proved to be contagious, as City’s fast start soon subsided into a twenty minute period of careless passing (even the usually reliable Wharton and O’Sullivan were affected) that saw them being forced onto the back foot as Charlton took charge.
That said, the only time the visitors got into a threatening position during this period came when James was forced to clear for a corner after a Charlton player had been played in down City’s left and when Dillon failed to deal with a Harris corner which seemed to kept out by a combination of a covering defender and the upright, the home side again showed that they carried the greater goal threat. Within seconds, this had been proved when a corner from the other side of the pitch found it’s way to Healey and he sent a first time shot low into the corner of the net from around fifteen yards to give his side the lead with around half an hour played.
It was Healey’s twelfth goal in thirteen league matches and, once again, he had shown that unerring instinct that all good goal getters have of being able to forget about how the rest of their game is going and react in the correct manner when a chance comes along – it wasn’t an eye catching finish, but my guess is that about eighteen of those on the pitch at that time would not have found the net under similar circumstances.
City’s (and Healey’s) game improved after that and if there was going to be another goal scored before half time, all of the signs were it would come from them as Charlton survived a series of scares before the break. However, the early stages of the second half saw the visitors have their best attacking spell of the game as they went a bit more direct and forced Wilson into a good diving save and then hit the post from a close range chance that probably should have been converted.
Wilson also had to deal with a far post header when Charlton worked another presentable chance, but, with Yorwerth and James doing a fine job, the last quarter of the game saw City a bit more comfortable. Indeed, as the visitors were forced to take more and more risks in their search for an equaliser, it was City who began to look the more likely scorers again as they threatened to catch their opponents on the break and it was only an awful offside decision which robbed Healey of a great chance to double the lead with about five minutes left.
Instead of the great chance he should have had, all the striker got was a yellow card for his troubles as he put the ball into the net after the flag had, incorrectly, been raised. Healey was the third City players to be cautioned with the earlier yellow cards for Kane Owen and the hard working Griffiths for fouls both being justified in my opinion – mind you, there was plenty that referee Chris Smith got wrong on the night. Apart from the guy who prompted a pitch invasion by an irate pensioner at the end of a game last year, I’ve found the referees for these matches to be pretty good on the whole, but that couldn’t be said of Mr Smith who couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether he was someone who generally let things go or whether he was a card happy character who whistled for everything.
Particularly confusing was his use (or to be more accurate, non use) of the advantage rule as there were plenty of times where he appeared to let the play go on, only to whistle some time later to bring it back for the original foul even though the team in possession had sometimes got themselves into a promising situation. Although I thought Mr Smith favoured Charlton in his general decision making, I must admit that it was the visitors who suffered most through his odd interpretation of the advantage laws.
Anyway despite the sub standard officials, City saw the game out against opponents who had beaten them 5-2 earlier in the campaign, and had only lost twice in the league until last night, to strengthen their hold on top spot in the league. With second placed Brighton being held at home by Bristol City last night, City now lead the table by six points and are at least seven in front of the team in third – if they can make the end of season Play Off’s, then I’d say it would be a more impressive achievement than last year, given the, seemingly, weaker sides they’ve had to field.
* picture courtesy of http://www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk/by The other Bob Wilson with 2 comments