City’s Under 21 Development team continued their fine home form with a hard fought 2-1 win over league leaders Brentford at Cardiff City Stadium in a game which started poorly for them and improved a lot in the second half before ending in almost surreal fashion as a series of increasingly bizarre decisions by the referee provoked what was probably the world’s oldest pitch invader to storm on to to confront the official at the final whistle!
More on the memorable John Farries later, because, although he ended up stealing the show, people weren’t really there to watch him, they were there to watch a game of football and, after a poor first half in which they were lucky not to go off at the interval a goal or two down, City improved after the break, scored two excellent goals and recorded a win which closed the gap on a Brentford team that were four points clear of them before kick off. The table in the free hand out for the match had Brentford on top with twenty two points and City in fifth, but it looks like this win has put us in a good position to challenge for the top two place which ensures qualification for the end of season play off’s.
Going against us is the fact that we we owe our position entirely to a home record of seven wins and one defeat. We have played twice as many games at home than we have away and, nearly six months into the season, we still await our first point on our travels. Also, before this weekend, Bristol City (who we have not faced yet) had the same number of points as we do now, but had played two matches less, so they have to be strong favourites to take one of the Play Off spots.
Thinking about it, it must be hard to foster the same sort of spirit and togetherness that, for example, our first team squad seems to have at this level because about half of your team don’t want to be playing because they think they should be in the first team and the other half are youngsters who must feel they are on some sort of trial to win either a further or first contract – it’s an environment that could encourage players to play for themselves.
However, on the evidence of the first half, Brentford had solved this conundrum because, although possessing a nucleus of players with plenty of league experience like goalkeeper Richard Lee, striker Antonio German, left back Scott Barron and midfield player Sam Saunders (the last two named had appeared as substitutes in Brentford’s FA Cup draw with Chelsea the previous day), they looked a well motivated outfit who were prepared to play for each other and work hard for the cause. On the other hand, a City team which looked the more impressive side on paper, appeared not to be at the races. There were some fleeting good moments from individuals, but Brentford players were getting in their faces, whereas the opposite was true when the visitors were in possession – for all of the first forty five minutes, it was Brentford players who were winning nearly all of the individual battles.
In saying that, this domination wasn’t really reflected in terms of goalscoring opportunities. Off the top of my head, I can only remember Brentford coming close to scoring on three occasions – first, when Saunders curled a shot inches wide in the opening minutes, then when a sloppy McPhail corner enabled then to break with pace and numbers and Elliott Parish had to make a fine save to deny Stuart Dallas and finally, when centre forward Luke Norris nodded just wide from a Saunders free kick.
Mind you, that was three more meaningful goal efforts than City managed in a sloppy first half showing in which none of the outfield players impressed as a potential first team player – that situation was to change after the break though. Whatever Kevin Cooper said to the players at half time, it worked because they came out a different team for the second half – especially Kadeem Harris who twice tested Lee in the opening few minutes. The closest City came to scoring during this period of dominance came when Harris hit a short corner to McPhail who then played it to the hapless ref, he found Ralls (I’m not joking!), who swept a good pass out to Harris, who beat his man and knocked a fine cross over that was just begging to be put away by captain Ben Nugent, but, instead, he nodded just wide.
Jesse Darko, perhaps, should have done better with a Coulson cross shortly afterwards, but he impressed throughout by winning the ball from Brentford players with clean tackles and it was after one such instance of this, that City took the lead just before the hour mark. Darko’s good work was rewarded when the previously anonymous Etien Velikonja moved on to a neat backheal by Filip Kiss (one of several City players to put in a far more impressive second half performance than first) and fired a first time left foot shot high up into the net from the edge of the penalty area. Velikonja came more into the game after that, but, overall, he just confirmed the feeling I got from other matches I’ve seen him play that he needs to do more to stand a chance of first team selection – he can certainly finish though.
Although they were having a much tougher time of it now, Brentford weren’t out of the game and Norris forced Parish into a save before Declan John had to clear a header by substitute Alfie Mawson off the line. It was City who looked more likely to get the next goal though and Mawson did very well to deny Veliknoja after a fine pass by the increasingly influential Joe Ralls with ten minutes left. It was to prove a temporary respite for the visitors though, as the ball was well won back by Coulson who played a short pass infield to Ralls, who steadied himself before hammering a superb left foot shot past the helpless Lee from over thirty yards out.
To their credit, Brentford finished the match strongly and they had a series of shots from the edge of the penalty area which didn’t go that far high and/or wide before they got a goal back well into added time with a penalty that was preceded by a farcical argument between German and Norris about who would take it before the latter finally placed his shot just beyond the diving Parish.
That proved to be the last meaningful action of the game as City held out for a win which I thought they just about deserved for the moments of quality they come up which the visitors couldn’t match. There were no really outstanding performances for City in my opinion, but nearly all of the team did enough in the second half to atone for their dismal first half showings – that said, I thought Coulson and Deji Oshilaja were pretty good before the break, so I suppose I could class them as our best players. A word too about Gethyn Hill who, hopefully, will soon recover after being stretchered off with what looked like a serious leg injury sustained when he collided with Lee shortly after coming on as sub and to Josh Yowerth who came on for the last half or so – I’m pretty sure it was his first appearance of the season and, after looking a little rusty at times when he first came on, he settled down to play in effective and composed fashion at centreback.
* picture courtesy of //www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/
Finally, I just have to comment about the referee who has had the dubious honour of becoming the first match official to be given a tag by me in one of my blog pieces (search “John Farries” on Google and you should find this write up). I think regular readers will agree that I don’t often spend much time talking about referees on here – very occasionally, I praise them and on more occasions I write a few words about officials that annoy me, but it doesn’t happen too often. However, Mr Farries was on a different plane completely to anything I’ve seen since I started this blog. For much of the game, his habit of giving every marginal decision in favour of Brentford was a minor distraction which eventually developed into genuine annoyance but in the dying minutes it was as genuine bewilderment and amusement I felt as his performance nosedived from poor to amazingly poor.
For a short while, the linesman on our side of the ground threatened to steal Mr Farries’ thunder with a couple of appalling throw in decisions, but the ref soon re-established his “authority” as the strange free kick decisions against us mounted up and obvious City corners were turned into goal kicks before his piece de resistance came with the penalty given against Declan John for what I presume Mr Farries thought was a foul on Charlie Adams. The video of the game on Cardiff City World confirmed my initial impression that John played the ball (it went in the exact direction you would expect it to from a clean tackle), but, by now you just knew Mr Farries would give a penalty and give one he did. Brentford wasted much of the six minutes added time that had been signalled arguing about who would take the spot kick, but that didn’t bother Mr Farries who was going to allow play to continue until Brentford equalised until someone came up with the great idea of telling him that his car had been clamped and he immediately signaled an end to proceedings.
The entertainment was not over yet though because the ref had to run the gauntlet of a septuagenarian pitch invader who was restrained by stewards before he could congratulate (at least I think he wanted to congratulate him!) Mr Farries on his memorable performance. From a pretty boring start to enjoyable football game to hilarious entertainment by the end – I congratulate you Mr Farries, you took the art of refereeing to a whole new level last night!