There haven’t been many of the goal filled romps we saw last season in home matches for the Under 21 side this time around – they’ve invariably been tight affairs contested by evenly matches teams. As to why it’s been harder going for the Development team this season, I think you only need to look at the fact that in 12/13 there was always a nucleus of experienced over age players selected as the rule that said four over 21’s (one of whom, had to be a goalkeeper) could be selected was nearly always utilised.
Filip Kiss and Etien Velikonja were regular starters in last year’s team and at various times you had people like Ben Turner, Craig Conway, Rudi Gestede and Joe Lewis being selected, while first team members who were still young enough to be included like Joe Mason and Jordon Mutch often featured as well. This time around, the reliance has, increasingly, been on youngsters not long out of the Academy – I’m not sure whether this is a deliberate policy, but the large number of players we have sent out on loan probably means that we would be unable to field sides as experienced as last year’s even if we wanted to.
It’s to the youngsters credit then that, with one exception, they have found ways to win their league matches at Cardiff City Stadium this season. This applies particularly to last night’s 1-0 victory over a Charlton side which beat them in the Final of the end of season Play Offs back in May and it was all the more praiseworthy that they did so with the most inexperienced team I’ve seen us field at this level.
Having Kadeem Harris back for his first start since returning from the injury which ended his very successful loan spell at Brentford helped, but Ben Wilson, Bradley Williams, Dane Griffiths and Tom James are novices at this level (I’m pretty sure it was a first start for the Under 21’s for the last two named) and so the likes of Luke Coulson, Josh Yorwerth, captain Theo Wharton, Tommy O’Sullivan and Rhys Healey found themselves cast as the “old heads” charged with guiding their team through what was something of a new experience for around half of the squad named.
City were immediately into their stride once the game finally kicked off after a delay of twenty minutes or so. The feeling among the people sat by me was that the delay was down to a couple of faulty sprinklers which could not be switched off, but, given the way Charlton started, you got the impression that it was their late arrival which had caused it. The visitors struggled to find their bearings in the first two or three minutes and could have found themselves three down in no time as, first, keeper Dillion Phillips foiled Healey in a one on one, then O’Sullivan fired narrowly wide from twenty yards and then Dillon was grateful to see a short range shot fly straight at him after Harris had beaten his man to get to the bye line and provide the cross.
Maybe Healey’s chance came too early in the game, because it was the sort of opportunity he has been putting away all season, but, whatever the reason, it was one of the things that characterised a sloppy start by the striker who constantly misplaced passes to present possession to the visitors. Whatever was afflicting Healey proved to be contagious, as City’s fast start soon subsided into a twenty minute period of careless passing (even the usually reliable Wharton and O’Sullivan were affected) that saw them being forced onto the back foot as Charlton took charge.
That said, the only time the visitors got into a threatening position during this period came when James was forced to clear for a corner after a Charlton player had been played in down City’s left and when Dillon failed to deal with a Harris corner which seemed to kept out by a combination of a covering defender and the upright, the home side again showed that they carried the greater goal threat. Within seconds, this had been proved when a corner from the other side of the pitch found it’s way to Healey and he sent a first time shot low into the corner of the net from around fifteen yards to give his side the lead with around half an hour played.
It was Healey’s twelfth goal in thirteen league matches and, once again, he had shown that unerring instinct that all good goal getters have of being able to forget about how the rest of their game is going and react in the correct manner when a chance comes along – it wasn’t an eye catching finish, but my guess is that about eighteen of those on the pitch at that time would not have found the net under similar circumstances.
City’s (and Healey’s) game improved after that and if there was going to be another goal scored before half time, all of the signs were it would come from them as Charlton survived a series of scares before the break. However, the early stages of the second half saw the visitors have their best attacking spell of the game as they went a bit more direct and forced Wilson into a good diving save and then hit the post from a close range chance that probably should have been converted.
Wilson also had to deal with a far post header when Charlton worked another presentable chance, but, with Yorwerth and James doing a fine job, the last quarter of the game saw City a bit more comfortable. Indeed, as the visitors were forced to take more and more risks in their search for an equaliser, it was City who began to look the more likely scorers again as they threatened to catch their opponents on the break and it was only an awful offside decision which robbed Healey of a great chance to double the lead with about five minutes left.
Instead of the great chance he should have had, all the striker got was a yellow card for his troubles as he put the ball into the net after the flag had, incorrectly, been raised. Healey was the third City players to be cautioned with the earlier yellow cards for Kane Owen and the hard working Griffiths for fouls both being justified in my opinion – mind you, there was plenty that referee Chris Smith got wrong on the night. Apart from the guy who prompted a pitch invasion by an irate pensioner at the end of a game last year, I’ve found the referees for these matches to be pretty good on the whole, but that couldn’t be said of Mr Smith who couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether he was someone who generally let things go or whether he was a card happy character who whistled for everything.
Particularly confusing was his use (or to be more accurate, non use) of the advantage rule as there were plenty of times where he appeared to let the play go on, only to whistle some time later to bring it back for the original foul even though the team in possession had sometimes got themselves into a promising situation. Although I thought Mr Smith favoured Charlton in his general decision making, I must admit that it was the visitors who suffered most through his odd interpretation of the advantage laws.
Anyway despite the sub standard officials, City saw the game out against opponents who had beaten them 5-2 earlier in the campaign, and had only lost twice in the league until last night, to strengthen their hold on top spot in the league. With second placed Brighton being held at home by Bristol City last night, City now lead the table by six points and are at least seven in front of the team in third – if they can make the end of season Play Off’s, then I’d say it would be a more impressive achievement than last year, given the, seemingly, weaker sides they’ve had to field.
* picture courtesy of http://www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk/