I suspect the reality may be different, but, off the top of my head, it seems that every time Cardiff City meet Millwall at Under 23 Development team level, the game ends in a draw!
It was no different at Leckwith yesterday lunchtime as it finished 1-1 and you can’t help thinking that if one of the sides still cannot win when they are as much on top as City were for the last third of the match, then it’s hard to see how there will ever be a positive result when they meet!
The Cardiff side featured senior players in Lee Camp, Liam Feeney, Omar Bogle and Anthony Pilkington, while there was also the usual assortment of trialists. I say that, but it might well be that there weren’t quite as many as normal trying to earn a contract, because, judging by the team line up shown on Twitter prior to kick off, it’s possible that a couple of them have already signed deals with us.
Wealdstone defender Ciaron Brown and free agent forward Ogo Obi (both of whom played a couple of games for us at this level on trial in the first half of the season) were both mentioned by name in the team line up, whereas the former Leeds pair Paul and Jack McKay and Farnborough midfield player Jacob Evans (who played a couple of games for Swindon last season) were down as “trialist” – not conclusive proof that Brown (whose profile is still on the Wealdstone FC website) and Obi are now City players, but I think they may well be.
Brwon took his place alongside Paul McKay at the heart of City’s defence in a side captained by James Waite who was used alongside Connor Young in a deeper midfield role than he normally plays, while Obi was on the bench along with Jack McKay and Evans as the match got off to a slow start.
Indeed, there was not much to take the eye of watching manager Neil Warnock and goalkeeping coach Andy Dibble in the first forty five minutes as, despite City enjoying what I would call a slight superiority, the two teams tended to cancel each other out.
Camp saved well from a header by visiting centre half Christian Mbulu and Rhys Abbruzzese eventually needed treatment on a bitterly cold day after taking the full force of a well struck Kris Twardek drive which looked to be on target before the left back’s intervention, but, mostly, the play tended to be heading towards the Millwall goal as City generally had trouble with their final pass as they failed to turn promising situations into an actual goal threat.
There were a couple of occasions during an unfortunate minute or two for Mark Harris when the home side looked like opening their account. The young forward was unlucky when a powerful header from a corner by McKay that would have, at the very least, forced Millwall keeper Harry Girling into urgent action hit him and bounced away for a goal kick, but he should have done much better when Girling came charging outside of his area and his header dropped at Harris’ feet in a central position some twenty yards from goal – there was a defender back trying to cover the situation, but, essentially, Harris had an open goal to aim at, but could only roll his shot wide.
The opening fifteen minutes of the second half saw the match continuing on a path which suggested that it would end goalless – Millwall applied some pressure without suggesting they had a goal in them, but generally the pattern of City having a slight edge continued.
When the deadlock was surprisingly broken on the hour mark, it was down to a neat piece of play by Pilkington as he received a Feeney cross, eluded his marker and poked his shot home from about six yards – it looked easy, but it also had a touch of quality to it as I don’t think there were many other players on the pitch who would have scored under the same circumstances.
What happened next brought to mind a situation which occurred in a League Cup tie between Yeovil and Plymouth a decade or more ago whereby Yeovil scored after not putting the ball out for an injured Plymouth player to receive treatment and their manager Gary Johnson told his side to allow Argyle to equalise straight from the restart. There were no injured Millwall players around, but the way City immediately conceded a corner after scoring which Camp dropped at the feet of Twardek who gratefully turned the ball slowly in suggested, for some reason, City felt obliged to present their opponents with an equaliser.
With the exception of one moment late on when unmarked towering visiting centre forward Harry Smith volleyed over when well placed some eight yards out, the rest of the match saw City lay siege to the Millwall goal. In many ways, it reminded me of Newport County’s terrific win over Leeds in the FA Cup twenty four hours earlier when they put their opponents under so much pressure that their last minute winner seemed inevitable – the one key difference was though that the inevitability was that City were destined never to get a second goal.
With Feeney and Cameron Coxe consistently getting the better of their opponents down City’s right, chances came at regular intervals, but the goal which would, surely, have secured the win, stubbornly refused to materialise.
Credit should go to Millwall for some desperate defending that somehow kept City out in a series of goalmouth scrambles (one of which seemed to go on for about thirty seconds!) and Girling came to their rescue on four or five occasions, but it was telling that although all of these saves were in the decent to good category, none of them were outstanding and so you had to feel that at least one of the home players involved should have been able to put away at least one of what were a series of great chances.
Luck was against City as well when they hit the woodwork twice, but, even then, there was that profligacy again on the first of these occasions as Bogle blazed over from close range after a header had smacked against the crossbar. However, Waite deserved so much better after a run from the halfway line which had seen him show pace and surprising power to stay clear of the chasing defenders than to see his left foot shot from the corner of the penalty area rebound off a post.
Obi, Jack McKay and Evans were all introduced, with the latter adding to the catalogue of near misses with a couple of efforts from around twenty five yards that flew narrowly side of either post, but shortly after Waite’s shot from a free kick some twenty yards out flew straight at Girling, City had to accept a draw in a game in which I though all of our back four did well in, with Brown in particular creating a favourable impression.
Finally, Newport’s reward for their Cup heroics in last night’s Fourth Round draw was a home tie with Spurs, while City have the incentive of what is an even more attractive game as they will entertain Manchester City if they beat Mansfield in their replay. We’ll need to play an awful lot better than we did on Saturday though if we are to face the side that is turning the Premier League into a procession this season (as I mentioned in my piece on the Mansfield match, I reckon we have to be underdogs going into the replay).