I’d arranged to go to this lunchtime’s Academy game with Leicester at Leckwith with a friend who had to cry off because he was ill and when he rang me at half time to ask how the game was going, I told him Leicester were 1-0 up, but they could easily have had a couple more and that I couldn’t see how City were going to score. I thought that was a pretty fair summing up of what had been a very one sided first period – City were second best all over the park to a visiting team who put pressure on our youngsters high up the pitch and were rewarded by gaining possession in dangerous areas. However, the under 18’s proved me wrong after the break by not only scoring twice, but also creating enough chances to have managed treble that number – the team deserved a lot of praise for the way they turned things around and it was tough on them to have the draw they deserved snatched away from them with virtually the last kick of the match.
Things looked ominous right from the start for City as a shot flew not far over within three minutes of the kick off as the visitors got to the bye line on City’s left and there were further efforts that weren’t far off from Leicester as a City side showing plenty of changes from the midweek Youth Cup match with Spurs and featuring a few players that I didn’t recognise, struggled to make any impression on opponents who looked stronger, sharper and more committed than them. However, some neat work by City’s number 10 (who I’m pretty sure was Jordan Carter, but he’s someone who I have had problems identifying in the past!) finally enabled them to get a shot in as he made space for himself well, but his attempt to place the ball into the far corner was too straight and the Leicester keeper made an easy save.
That effort came about halfway through the opening period and prompted a spell where Leicester stepped up the pressure as they gained a series of free kicks around the edge of City’s penalty area. The most promising of them, in terms of position at least, came when Josh Yorwerth was caught in possession and earned a yellow card for bringing down the player who had robbed him – the free kick was blocked by the wall, but when it rebounded to the taker, he tried a volley which he caught really well only for David Richards to show more of the ability that kept Spurs out in the second half on Wednesday as he turned the ball around the post. There was a feeling that this was only delaying the inevitable though and Leicester were soon in front thanks to a spectacular overhead kick by their number seven.
Centre forward Gethyn Hill, who had been isolated for much of the time and struggling to make any impact did offer some hope of better to come when his shot from the edge of the penalty area flew not far wide when the Leicester keeper looked beaten, but half time arrived with City grateful to be just the one goal down. Hill was to play a much bigger part in proceedings in the second half though and the first inkling that the game had become far more evenly contested came when, following one of many good runs by Kevin Sainte-Luce, he spun on a loose ball eight yards out and hit a shot which drew a good save out of the Leicester keeper.
All of a sudden, the visitors, who had looked so comfortable at the back previously, were now being hurried into mistakes. Maybe their pressing game had taken a lot out of them, but it was now City, not Leicester, who were picking up most of the loose balls as their goal attempts mounted up. Hill had another effort that flew just wide and was almost played in by Carter after a lovely spin by the midfield player had taken his marker right out of the game, but a goal seemed certain after Saint-Luce beat three defenders before having the awareness to spot a colleague in a great position, but, sadly, Jordan Jackson ballooned the ball horribly over close in.
When Hill was again denied by fine near post save by the keeper, it began to look like City were never going to get the equaliser which they more than deserved given their domination of the second half, but then came the best goal I’ve seen the Academy team score this season (in fact it may well be the best I’ve seen any City team score this season) as some neat passing from the back worked Carter into a bit of space on the halfway line from where he broke forward, beat an opponent and arrowed a rising twenty five yard shot into the corner of the net with the keeper helpless. The game seemed to be there for the winning by City now, but Leicester then regained their lead against the run of play when a shot from a long way out was blocked only for the ball to roll into the path of one of their forwards who couldn’t really miss from about ten yards out.
The goal owed a lot to luck, but, for a while it appeared that it may be the winner. The visitors regained some of their former authority and it began to look like they could close out the game fairly comfortably – it was then though that Josh Yorwerth, who had been some way short of his commanding best until now, delivered a superb fifty yard pass (it was a proper pass as well, not a typical centre halve’s punt!) over the head of the last Leicester defender into the path of the on-running Hill who finally managed to beat the keeper to grab a deserved goal with around ten minutes to go.
Both sides went for the win after that – City had the ball in the net, but it had already gone out of play for a goal kick, while Richards tipped an angled shot over the bar and it was the visitors who snatched the win right at the death when they got to the bye line on their left and the ball was pulled back to present the scorer with an easy goal. There was time for City to kick off, but the whistle blew straight after that and, for the second time in three days, City’s youngsters had lost an entertaining game in which they had played a full part – on Wednesday I thought Spurs deserved their win despite City’s spirited showing, but today’s defeat was a cruel one especially after such a spirited second half performance.
Sadly, the Under 16 match played on an adjacent pitch saw an identical outcome as Leicester ended up 3-2 winners despite a second half City comeback which saw them score twice.