Perhaps it was the sight of their countrymen beating England this morning in the Rugby World Cup Quarter Final (that might well be the first time I’ve ever mentioned “Wales national sport” on here, so I’ll get my money’s worth and say well done and congratulations to the team for their fantastic display this morning) about an hour before the kick off of today’s Academy match with Watford at Treforest, but City Under 18’s Foreign Legion of Yannis Drais and Kevin Saint Luce certainly put their opponents to the sword with the latter scoring twice and the former once (as well as providing a couple of assists) in an excellent 4-0 victory.
Watford’s Academy is often held up as a shining light that others should follow as scholars don’t only get a football education from the club, but they also get an academic one as well courtesy of a partnership with a local school. I think I have mentioned before that Watford have nearly always provided strong opposition when I have seen them take on our Academy team and, certainly, they do tend to punch above their weight at this level as they provide a steady stream of quality youngsters for first team consideration at a club that does not figure high on any list of Championship big spenders. However, today they were very much second best to a City team that won individual battles all over the pitch – it took them a while to assert their dominance, but, by the end of the game, the visitors were a well beaten side who could easily have lost by more.
I’ll come to our two French youngsters again, but the seeds for City’s victory were sown in central midfield where Mamadou Diallo and Theo Wharton both had fine matches. Diallo is still the same slight figure that he was in the previous two seasons, but he seems to have grown stronger and continually won the ball against bigger opponents as well as providing some perceptive passing to launch attacks. If Diallo was the one of the central midfield pairing who impressed most in the first half, then Wharton came into it more after the break and he had a big part to play in the second goal, but they excelled as a pair until the latter left the pitch late on having put in a tremendous shift for the team.
However, it is the two French forwards who provided the attacking edge that Watford, despite a lot of possession, lacked (apart from a couple of headed chances from dead ball situations, the visitors never really looked like scoring). Ten minutes or so into a first half that was quite enjoyable despite a lack of goalmouth action, Saint Luce did well to take down a high ball and beat an opponent before rolling a pass to Drais, who let the ball go across his body before giving City the lead with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area. A goal ahead at the break, City struck again early in the second half when Wharton fed Jordan Jackson who beat the full back before knocking over a good low cross that Drais steered in from about six yards and it was after this that they began to get on top.
With Watford having to push more players forward, there were chances for City on the counter attack and it was Drais’ replacement Gethyn Hill who benefited most from this as, firstly his near post flick from a Saint Luce cross flew just over and then he could not provide a fluent length of the pitch move off, which was as good as anything I have seen from a City Academy team, with the finish it deserved as he fired over from fifteen yards. After this, it was Saint Luce’s turn to get in on the goal action with about twenty minutes left as he cut in while Watford looked for an offside flag that never came to score from twenty yards and then, after a spell when City got a little careless with the match won, Hill tapped in the fourth in the last minute as Saint Luce unselfishly set him up after he, again, got clear of the visitors defence.
So, having scored four while getting their first win over the season at MK Dons last week, City did it again and this really was an impressive display from a side missing Ralls, Oshilaja and Darko. I’ve mentioned four players who did well today, but the truth is that I could just as easily have talked about Kane Owen, Adam Davies and Luke Jones who, along with Josh Yorwerth, formed a strong back four which also did well in terms of building from the back in the way that the kids are encouraged to play under Neil Ardley.
One last thing to finish off, the Under 16 match being played on an adjacent pitch finished 1-1.