Six weeks ago, Portsmouth came to Cardiff City and led well into the second half before losing the game 3-2 with the winning goal coming well into added time. Today at Leckwith, the same thing happened – City’s Academy team came from behind to beat Portsmouth 3-2 with the winning goal coming in added time. The only difference being really that, whereas Pompey’s senior team led 2-1 going into the last quarter of their match, their Under 18’s were 2-0 up at one stage.
Therefore, great credit should be given to our Academy side for a fine comeback. To be honest, the game wasn’t quite as exciting as the scoring sequence suggests mind and, for much of the time, the quality on display wasn’t great, but it has to be said that a firm, but uneven pitch which did not aid good football, didn’t help matters. Also, it was only when coming out from under the protection offered by the stand at the end of the game that I realised that a gusty wind had blown up over the course of the ninety minutes – in such conditions it would be daft to expect a football classic.
City fielded a young side which I would say contained a majority of first year scholars, but they started the game confidently and had forced a free kick on the edge of the Portsmouth penalty area within about thirty seconds. Declan John’s shot was blocked by the wall, but within a few minutes the visitor’s keeper made a good save to deny Jesse Darko as City continued to take the game to their opponents. Gethyn Hill and Darko again went close in the first quarter of an hour or so and it seemed as if a goal had to come – except, when it did, it was from Portsmouth as their number seven cut in from the left to fire a shot low past Richards, whose wayward kicking had been the only cause for alarm for City up until then, from the corner of the penalty area.
Lees than a minute later, Richards was picking the ball out of the net again after City had carelessly presented the ball back to their opponents almost straight from the restart. However, I don’t think anyone could have expected what happened next as the Pompey number ten took aim from thirty yards and fired an absolute screamer into the top corner of the net. You had to feel sorry for the City after that because sixty seconds earlier they had been in control of proceedings and could easily have been two up themselves – instead, they found themselves with a mountain to climb and I think it’s fair to say that it took them until sometime into the second half to recover from this double blow. City never really threatened for the rest of the first half, but then neither did the visitors either as the game entered a scrappy phase – in fact, apart from a few shots from distance which Richards delay with easily, Portsmouth offered very little going forward for the rest of the game.
The second half started in the same disjointed fashion, but, aided by the strengthening breeze, City were now doing most of the attacking as they began to get on top in midfield. Theo Wharton again showed very impressive stamina as the game went on – the midfielder became more and more influential and around the hour mark he headed in Hill’s cross from the right to give City a foothold in the game. That goal came out of the blue and, truth be told, City didn’t look like adding to it until the match was into it’s last twenty minutes or so when they put together a very good move which saw Wharton feed Hill who crossed to Darko who looked certain to equalise as he met the ball about eight yards out – a brilliant save from the Pompey keeper denied the striker though with the ball clipping the crossbar on the way over.
Gethyn Hill, another player who improved as the match went on, saw his shot from twenty yards fly just over, but when some poor defending allowed him collect a throw in and then try his luck again from the same range, this time his shot found the net to get City deservedly back on terms. City pushed for the win in the ten minutes or so that remained, but it didn’t look as if they would manage it, until another good corner by John led to a scramble in the area which saw the Pompey post hit before Darko knocked the ball in from close range to win the game.
Theo Wharton and Mamadou Diallo (before he went off with a quarter of the game left) were the stand out performers to me for the way they managed to win the midfield battle, but credit to the whole team for the way they came back, although I must say that my heart went out a bit for the Pompey side. That club is going through a terrible time of it at the moment and to lose after being 2-0 up is just one more thing on top of a whole heap of misery for them.
If further proof of Portsmouth’s desperate plight were needed, it came with the news that City had signed their captain Liam Lawrence on loan for the rest of the season. Under the terms of the deal, City have paid a loan fee and are responsible for all of the player’s salary over the next three months – Norwegian international Eric Huseklepp has signed for Birmingham under a similar deal and it’s a case of the team who beat us in the 2008 FA Cup Final having to lose highly paid players or they may fail to see out the season I’m afraid.
As for what type of player Lawrence is, he’s a midfielder who made his reputation as right sided player at Mansfield, Sunderland and Stoke, but he seems to me to be playing a bit more centrally lately and, anyway, rather like Don Cowie, he’d be classed as a wide midfield player rather than a winger. Having played a lot of Premiership football and gained fifteen caps for the Republic of Ireland, I can see 30 year old becoming a regular starter over the coming weeks, but he looks likely to miss tomorrow’s very important match with West Ham (City have dropped to eighth after today’s matches and some of their rivals have played three times since we last played a Championship game), with Wednesday’s visit to Brighton being mooted as his first appearance in City colours.