Ordinarily I would say that you would have to be something of a saddo to write a report where you get all enthusiastic about a youth game that ends 0-0, but I don’t care admitting that I really enjoyed yesterday’s Under 18 game with Leicester City at Leckwith – it was definitely the most entertaining Under 18 match I have seen this season.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how some Championship club’s Academies manage to get better results than ours while also producing more first team players. I had Reading and Watford in mind when I wrote that piece, but it’s worth noting that Leicester (who, Andy King and Leeds’ Max Gradel apart, have not produced many quality performers at first team level recently) have, I believe, been Champions of City’s Under 18 league for the past two seasons and are leading again this year with thirteen wins and three draws from the nineteen matches they had played before today.
It was the first time I had seen a Leicester Academy team despite the fact that we have been in the same league since we gained Academy status and I was interested to see what made them so successful, in terms of results at least, at this level. The first thing to say about them was that they are a big side who, unlike the first team that visited Cardiff City Stadium a fortnight or so ago, play a pretty direct game with a lot of long throw ins and long balls forward. They also had the sort of confidence and arrogance you associate with successful teams and this was shown by the way they were happy to leave one on one or two on two at the back when they were taking corners.
Leicester forced the pace right from the start – this was the sort of 0-0 where you come away wondering how on earth there had not been goals, but, to be honest, I felt like that after about five minutes as the visitors did everything but score! There was a frantic goalmouth scramble in the first minute where a City defender headed off the line, then a one on one with the keeper which saw a shot fly just wide after our defence gave the ball away cheaply and, finally, a header inches wide from one of a series of corners the visitors got throughout the first half.
It really looked like City were on for a proper pasting at this stage, but, although their attacking tended to be on the break, they went on to have the better chances throughout an entertaining first half after that. From memory, Nat Jarvis and Ibby Farah both tested the visiting keeper with good long range efforts, tricky winger Sameth Al Basith saw a close range effort turned just wide via an upright and Jesse Darko, who fired too high, and Jarvis, who shot wide, should really have done better when clean through on goal. Leicester’s tactic of piling men forward for set pieces led to some of the problems they had, but, increasingly, City were growing in confidence and starting to put some decent moves together on a lively, bobbly surface with the conditions not being helped by a cold, gusting wind that blew straight down the pitch.
Despite their territorial advantage and a lot of possession, all Leicester could offer in response was to try and make their physical advantage count at set pieces – one incisive move did carve City open, but a superb block by Alex Evans ensured that keeper Ottley continued to be tested only by crosses and long throws.
A very entertaining first half ended with things beginning to get a bit tasty as the referee had to produce three yellow cards in about five minutes. For the first one, skipper Ibby Farah was harshly booked for delaying the taking of a free kick that he seemed to have no chance of getting out of the way of, but when a minute or two later he got involved with an opponent after fouling him and there was a bit of pushing and shoving between the two players, some sympathetic refereeing saved him as only the Leicester player was cautioned.
Farah went on to become more influential in a second half which, although not quite matching the first in terms of goalmouth action, still had plenty to keep the sparse crowd interested. If anything the visitors had the better of the opening stages of the second period and came so close to breaking the deadlock when Ottley made a great stop to keep out a header but a goal seemed inevitable when the ball dropped to a Leicester forward no more than a yard or two out – the angle was too tight for him though and he could only turn the ball harmlessly across the face of goal.
In general however, City were defending very well now with the whole back four doing a good job. Further forward, City came back strongly as the game went into it’s final stages and Jarvis brought the keeper into action again with a well struck effort from twenty yards. However, by now, I began to think that a goal was never going to come and when one of City’s substitutes went on a superb run past three opponents within seconds of coming on only to then blaze over the bar from ten yards out with just the keeper to beat, I just knew it was going to finish 0-0!
There was still time for the impressive Farah to come close to repeating his excellent late goal against Watford in City’s last home game as a left foot screamer from distance flew a yard over the bar with the Leicester keeper beaten and a scramble in the visitor’s penalty area ended with one of our centre backs volleying a presentable chance high over the bar, but a fine game ended with City having to withstand Leicester pressure as they forced a series of free kicks and corners.
It wasn’t really a day for singling individuals out for praise because I thought City were good from one to eleven, but, if I had to, I ‘d go for right back Steffan Jones, centre back Alex Evans and Ibby Farah in midfield – with all three of them being second year scholars who will be told if they have earned pro contracts in the coming weeks, it was a good time for them to put in performances like this.