I’m not sure a victory in what was really a reserve match constitutes giving City fans bragging rights over their rivals from down the coast, as was claimed by the official site, but, a dodgy last quarter of an hour apart, last night’s 2-1 win for the Development team over their Swansea counterparts at Cardiff City Stadium was a lot more clear cut than the scoreline suggests. The victory continues a trend of strong home performances and feeble away ones which is not just linked to the first team – if anything, it applies even more at reserve and Under 18 level.
I’ve seen all eighteen home games played by the first, Under 21 and Under 18 teams this season and I’m not sure I can remember such a time of home dominance for Cardiff City teams. The first eleven’s record breaking start to their home league campaign has made plenty of headlines, but, whilst not setting the same sort of standards, the sides at the next two levels down have been doing their bit as well. They have both played five home games and while there has been a single defeat for each of them, the Under 21’s have won the other four and the Under 18’s have three wins and a draw. Therefore, the total record for these three sides at home reads;-
P 18 W 15 D 1 L 2 f 41 a 19
I reckon Malky Mackay will be pretty pleased come March if the first team’s home record is as good as that, but, away from home, the story is so, so different. Indeed, the first team’s miserable record on their travels pales into insignificance when you compare it to how the Under 21’s and Under 18’s have done. Between them they have played seven away matches and the only time they’ve avoided defeat was in the 1-1 draw gained by the Academy side at Charlton – if you include the League Cup defeat at Northampton, the total record reads;-
P 15 W 2 D 2 L 11 f 19 a 34
Personally, I believe that the fact that all three sides’ seasons appear to be following the same pattern is purely a coincidence, but it does show that the schizophrenia displayed by the first team is not just limited to them at Cardiff.
I suppose one possible explanation of the Under 21’s fine home record could be that the youngsters who make up the majority of the team could be inspired by playing all of their home matches at Cardiff City Stadium as opposed to across the road at Leckwith Athletics Stadium like the Under 18’s do. However, the coaches of at least two of the sides beaten by them have talked about what a great occasion it was for their young players to perform at such a stadium as opposed to the far smaller grounds they tend to have to play in normally, so I would have thought that would nullify any perceived Cardiff advantage.
Last night though, it was not just the Cardiff City Stadium factor to contend with for our youngsters, there was also the fact that so many people turned up to watch them perform. I think I read somewhere that the crowd for the last home game against Millwall was around 150, but I’d say there was something like ten times that number there last night and I suppose this only helped add to creating a bit more of an edge than what you would normally in Cardiff v Swansea game at this level.
So, I’d say last night was definitely a bigger occasion than about half of the starting line up are used to, but they showed little signs of this effecting them as City started the match well and established a dominance that they never really lost. In the opening minutes it was the players more used to playing in front of crowds numbering thousands rather than hundreds who made an impression – Kadeem Harris, making an all too rare appearance at any level since his signing ten months ago, burst clear impressively and from the free kick he gained, Craig Conway fired not too far over. Within a minute or so though, there was a far better chance for the home side as Nat Jarvis caused confusion in the jacks defence and Etien Velikonja was left with a clear run on goal, but I’m afraid that the Slovenian international, who had impressed with his finishing when scoring a hat trick against Millwall in the Under 21’s last match, fired well wide with his left foot.
Swansea, with the likes of Danny Graham, Kemi Agustien, Darnel Situ, Rory Donnelly and Jazz Richards in their line up, were struggling to contain a lively City side, but, to be fair, they did suffer more as a string of injuries forced stoppages which turned the first half into a bitty affair and led to four changes having to be made by the sides by the forty ninth minute – Agustien and Situ were two of the three Swansea players to make way and, sadly, Harris was another injury victim halfway through the first period when I think it was Steve McPhail who gave him something of a hospital pass and he appeared to jar his knee in the challenge which followed (hopefully, the fact that Harris was able to walk around the pitch towards the dug out rather than be helped or stretchered off means that this latest injury is not too serious).
Harris’ replacement Jesse Darko soon had a chance to open the scoring but he made a mess of it as keeper Cornell had advanced quickly and was too close to the striker for the attempted lob to clear him – Darko was to more than make up for this miss though and became a big influence in the second half especially. Cornell again impressed with a good stop from Ben Nugent’s header and he then made a great double save to deny Velijonka as the visitors reached half time lucky to still be on level terms having given City keeper Eliott Parish little or nothing to do.
The pattern didn’t change after half time, Darko had a goalbound shot blocked and when the ball rebounded to Velikonja, he put a presentable chance over. The breakthrough City deserved finally arrived around the hour mark when Darko did extremely well to win the ball midway inside the visitor’s half and then find Conway with a fine crossfield pass, the winger took the ball on a few paces as he cut inside and then found the net with a rising shot from around twenty five yards. it was a fitting reward for Conway who has shown a great attitude in the three Development team matches I’ve seen him play in – he is an impressive player at this level and if he just had a little more acceleration to burst clear of opponents, I think he’d be a regular starter in the first team.
City took confidence from the goal – McPhail struck the cross bar with a beautiful free kick from getting on for thirty yards and seconds later Jarvis headed against the outside of the post from a good cross by Declan John I think it was. There was a fifth injury at this stage though as captain Nugent left the pitch, to be replaced by Kane Owen, and City lost some of their momentum. Swansea were still doing little or nothing to suggest they had a goal in them, but, they were still in a game in which they should have been dead and buried by then. City needed a second goal and it came out of nowhere when Darko took advantage of indecision in the visitor’s defence to score from the edge of the penalty area.
That should have been that really, but with Owen, who is much more of a full back or midfield player than a central defender, sometimes showing his lack of experience in that position, it became an edgy last fifteen minutes or so for City. A header from a corner finally forced Parrish into a slightly difficult save and when Owen was caught out of position, the otherwise very good Adedeji Oshilaja was forced into conceding a penalty which Graham put away with the minimum of fuss. In the ten minutes or so that remained, Swansea were able to work themselves into some promising positions without getting a goal attempt away, but the big scare for City came when Donnolly cut in from the right to hit a shot from twenty yards which clipped the top of the crossbar with Parrish beaten.
Cornell came forward to join the attack as Swansea lumped one last free kick into the penalty area, but City held firm to record a win in an encounter which was, for seventy five minutes at least, a very comfortable exercise for them. With so many injuries at first team level, there might well have been places in the first team squad up for grabs last night – Conway was already a certainty for a place on the bench I’d guess, but, with ninety minutes behind him, Steve McPhail might well come into contention and, if we are still struggling for defenders, I’d say Oshilaja (who has the bonus of being able to play anywhere along the back) could be a better option even if Nugent is fit. As for the youngsters who will probably not be contenders for a squad place, there was another strong showing at left back by John and, as mentioned earlier, Darko showed up well, but I’d say the best performance by a youngster came from Theo Wharton who looked a very good all round midfield player amongst what was decent quality company.