The small crowd which turned up to watch this afternoon’s entertaining 3-2 win for Cardiff City’s Development team over QPR at Leckwith saw five players making their first appearances in a City shirt in months.
Four of those returning were back from loan spells at League Two clubs where I would have thought it’s fair to say they enjoyed varying levels of success.
Tommy O’Sullivan and Jazzi Barnum-Bobb’s arrival at Newport coincided almost exactly with their rise from the bottom of the league to the relative safety of twentieth position. The team who replaced County at the foot of the table, York City, did so with a terrible run of results that has them looking virtual certainties to drop out of the Football League and yet David Tutonda seemed to spend most of his time there sat on the substitutes bench. While Ben Wilson’s stay at mid table AFC Wimbledon was marred by a couple of bad errors which cost goals, with the second of them resulting in an on line row with some supporters after criticism of the goalkeeper had appeared on social media platforms.
However most attention was focused on French striker Idriss Saadi who had injured a hamstring while making a promising, if brief, first team debut when he came on for the last thirteen minutes of the win over Reading in early November.
Barnum-Bobb had a quietly effective return to Cardiff colours, while Wilson had surprisingly little to do given that the visitors had so many goal attempts in the second half as they showed that it’s not just the City’s first team who have a problem with going 2-0 up, but the other three returnees were to play significant parts in a win that had an element of good fortune to it given the balance of play.
There was a good, open feel to the game right from the start, with both sides generally overcoming the problems caused by a pitch which is now showing signs of wear and tear after having coped pretty well with all of the extra use it has been receiving (due to the problems with the playing surface at Cardiff City Stadium) during this wettest of winters.
Both defences were struggling to deal with some lively attacks, but, by and large, they just about coped as there were plenty of “nearly moments”, but not too many actual goal attempts – a header from City captain Tom James which flashed just wide being the closest either side came to scoring in the game’s first quarter.
The teams were looking pretty evenly matched, but it was City who got their noses in front when left back Tutonda drove ay and then beat his marker, before pulling back a low cross that was smashed home from twelve yards by O’Sullivan via the underside of the crossbar.
The rest of the first period saw City begin to take a degree of control as O’Sullivan, playing in what is probably his best position at the tip of a midfield diamond in a 4-4-2 formation, an increasing factor.
Hardly surprisingly, Saadi’s lack of match practice had been apparent early on, but he began to impress with some neat contributions to moves which tended to fizzle out because of bobbles from the pitch as much as anything else.
I watched the game with Supporters’ Trust Committee member and TV star Keith Morgan and minutes after he had said that he would like to see how Saadi would handle a clear goal scoring opportunity, he got his wish when more fine work by Tutonda saw him presented with a beautifully weighted pass that left the striker with a run at goal from about thirty five yards out.
What happened next was impressive, as Saadi cut in past the last defender and then calmly rolled a shot out of the reach of the advancing keeper to double the lead.
City were now as dominant as they would ever get in the game and yet it was QPR who came closest to scoring the game’s third goal before the break, when a close range shot was stabbed just wide with Wilson looking like he had no chance of keeping it out if the effort had been on target.
At any other club, a 2-0 half time lead would look a comfortable advantage, but this is Cardiff City and, after they had survived a free kick for their opponents in a central position some twenty five yards from goal, they botched a great chance to make the game safe early in the second half when Marco Weymans put centre forward Eli Phipps’ good low cross wide from close range.
For a time, that looked like being the match’s decisive moment because QPR rallied so well after this escape that City spent the next fifteen minutes or so being battered by opponents who attacked with a lot more pace and purpose than they had displayed before half time.
The onslaught on City’s goal began when the impressive Reece Grego-Cox turned in a low cross from point blank range and, from here, the goal attempts began to rain in on City’s goal for a while.
There were shots and headers which flew just wide or high, while another goal bound effort was deflected narrowly wide by a defender.
The strange thing was that, by bringing on Theo Wharton for Saadi at the interval, City had reinforced their midfield and yet it was in this area where they were being so outgunned.
However, it was two of that five man midfield who combined to lift the siege for a while when my City man of the match Jamie Veale combined with Macauley Southam to create a chance which saw the former’s effort from ten yards well saved by Hudnott in the visitor’s goal.
QPR then wasted no time in profiting from this let off as Tom Rosenthal swept home another low cross after the latest in a number of effective runs by Grego-Cox.
Although City continued to live dangerously at times after this, the introduction of Tyler Roche for Weymans, which saw City revert to a four man midfield, saw them gain a foothold in the game.
Indeed, the truth was that the main threat to Wilson’s goal now came from his own players as the keeper made his best save of the game to keep out a close range header by centreback Ashley Baker and he was then in just the right place to catch a sliced clearance from Tutonda that could have gone anywhere.
However, Wilson was helpless when O’Sullivan headed a corner on to his own post and, as it turned out, this meant that Wales’ Young Player of the year was denied an Anthony Pilkington type hat trick because, with about fifteen minutes to go, he popped up with the winning goal.
O’Sullivan, far less prominent than he had been in the first half, was there to apply the finishing touch from about eight yards after Huddnott had saved from Phipps who had been put through by a clever pass from Wharton I think it was.
Somewhat surprisingly given what had gone before, the closing minutes passed quite quietly and City were able to hang on for their win relatively comfortably to move a point in front of QPR (who had been in third position in the table going into the game) in their bid to claim one of the two spots up for grabs in the end of season Play Offs.
One last thing, as I drove out from the ground, I saw the match officials and some City players (all still with their kit on) walking across Leckwith Road – I can only think that they were heading for the Cardiff City Stadium changing rooms.
I have vague memories of having to walk across Sloper Road on the way to play at Jubilee Park for Pentrebane school against someone like Radnor Road or Kitchener around fifty years ago, but has it come to the stage where professional footballers have to do something similar at embargo hit Cardiff City because the club do not want to pay for the use of the changing rooms at the Athletics stadium I ask myself semi seriously!