Cardiff City’s Under 16 and 18 teams returned to action yesterday lunchtime after the Christmas break with matches against MK Dons at Leckwith. I spent the first half watching the Under 16’s who fell behind to a useful looking Dons team who broke quickly after City had lost the ball in midfield and two or three quick passes later, the ball was in the net as their lone striker scored easily in a one on one. The goal had the effect of opening the game up and, although the City keeper had to make a decent save from a free kick, it was the visitors who came under the most pressure as a series of dangerous looking attacks were foiled as much through a lack of anticipation and killer instinct on City’s part as any good defending by the Dons.
A number of good crossed were put into the box and City were unlucky when a header by their number 7 beat the keeper only to fly narrowly over the bar, but, for the most part, they were unable to make their domination count and by half time you got the feeling that it was just going to be one of those days for an age group that has been pretty impressive until yesterday when I had watched this season – I went to have a look at the Under 18’s at half time, but, from the bits and bobs of the Under16’s match that I saw while there was a break in the play, it seemed to me as if the game finished 1-0 to the Dons.
The Under 18’s were level at 0-0 at the break with a Dons team who habitually finish at the bottom of the section of the Academy League that City play in, but Neil Ardley brought on Nat Jarvis for Kevin St Luce at half time and, to be honest, the forty five minutes I saw was virtually all about him as he went on to show that there is probably nothing to be gained now by continuing to pick him at this level week in week out. In saying that, the visitor’s side looked, if anything, smaller than their Under 16’s team and they ran out of steam alarmingly from around the hour mark onwards – whether it was down to fatigue on the opposition’s part or ability from the player, the Dons were just unable to cope with Jarvis’ movement, power and pace.
With City pushing captain Ibby Farah right up alongside Jarvis and Jesse Darko to give them what was a genuine 4-3-3 formation, they sent out a clear signal that nothing but a win would do for them, but, in a quiet start to the second period, the closest either side came was when City keeper Dave Richards had to move smartly to keep out a flicked header from a left wing cross. That was the only time the visitors threatened though as, increasingly, City took command with the clever passing of Joe Ralls (playing in the sort of “quarterback” role Peter Whittingham has featured in for the first team this season) began to pick holes in a tiring defence.
Jarvis could have had a hat trick within about ten minutes as he shot against the goalkeeper’s legs when played through, did the same thing again shortly afterwards and then saw an effort roll inches wide. In truth, the last two of these chances should probably have been put away, but opportunities were coming along pretty regularly now and City finally broke the deadlock with a strange goal around a quarter of an hour from the end when a cross was sent in from the left by Farah after Jordan Jackson’s centre from the other side of the pitch had flashed across goal and Jarvis jumped for the ball with the Don’s keeper who got himself in a mess and the ball ended up in the net. It seemed to me that the keeper had palmed the ball in for an own goal, but Jarvis may well have got a touch on it as well. There were no such doubts as to the identity of the scorer of the second goal five minutes later though when Jarvis came off his marker to head home a corner at the near post.
Despite more close shaves for the visitors, the match ended at 2-0 to earn City a victory which, based on what I saw, was more clear cut than the scoreline would indicate. Whether Nat Jarvis gained much from the whole exercise is a moot point though because with no strikers and the likes of Jon Meades and Martin John on the bench for the first team at Stoke, you have to wonder if Jarvis would have been better off being with the first team – Jarvis’loan spell at Southend probably proved that he isn’t yet a first team option for Dave Jones when everyone is fit and available, but, Darcy Blake ended up playing as a striker for the last couple of minutes at the Brittannia Stadium yesterday, wouldn’t it have been better for us to have had a proper striker available to come on?