I’d figured out exactly how we were going to stay up this season – all the club had to do was pay for me to get to all of our remaining away matches and we’d be safe. No, this wasn’t me trying to con my way into getting to places like Newcastle and Sunderland, this was what looked to be a sure fire method of ensuring we would be in the Premier League next season. The reasoning behind my plan for us dodging the drop hinged on the fact that, suddenly, in football supporter terms anyway, everything I touched was turning to gold!
Somewhere along the line, I’d done or said something which had transformed City’s fortunes – as long as I was there in the flesh watching them. In the two days between the Hull City debacle on 22 February and the Under 21’s match with Charlton the following Monday evening, I’d inadvertently done the thing that was going to make all of the difference. What else could explain the fact that, since the Hull game, I had watched six matches (one City Under 16’s, 2 x Under 18’s, one Under 21, a first team match and a Wales international) and the team I had been supporting had won them all, with the one one game I’d not been present at (Spurs) having been lost.
So it was, I set off to Cardiff City Stadium yesterday lunchtime utterly confident that I would see out table topping Under 21 Development side beat bottom of the league Ipswich in their latest home game (the Under 21’s have a formidable record at Cardiff City Stadium as well).
The first inkling I got that things might not go to plan came when I saw the team sheet that was given to me as I entered the ground. Recently it seems that I have to write that the Under 21 side I’d just watched was the most inexperienced I’d seen us play at this level after every match I go to and that trend continued yesterday. Kadeem Harris (who had played for the first hour in that Charlton match I mentioned earlier) was missing, he was replaced by Anthony Bell, and we had someone called Robbie Cotton, a name which meant nothing to me, wearing the number eight shirt – I’ve subsequently done some research and it seems Cotton was formerly at Blackburn.
So, City’s side was, again, without any of the three over age outfield players they are allowed in this competition, but to be fair, there was only one familiar name in the Ipswich line up – Alan Lee, who is now combining playing with a coaching role at their Academy was leading the visitor’s attack.
What turned out to be an entertaining match in the Sunday lunchtime sun started off with City looking the sharper as Rhys Healey, seeking to add his excellent goalscoring record at this level this season, did well to get a shot away from a difficult angle which flew not too far wide and then Bell also didn’t miss by much with an effort from around twenty yards. With City only looking to have Josh Yorwerth physically equipped to cope with Lee and the two giant centrebacks in the visitor’s line up, Ipswich appeared to have an advantage from dead ball situations around the City goal and they came very close to exploiting this when centre half Omar Sowumni got his head to a free kick – it looked like a certain goal as keeper Ben Wilson was beaten and an Ipswich forward closed in to apply the finishing touch, but in a move which was very like Emerson Boyce’s matchwinning clearance for Wigan in their win at Man City a few hours later, Tom James did brilliantly to not only stop the ball going in, but also get it over the bar for a corner from only a yard or two out.
Ipswich did threaten at times in the first half after that, but never came as close to getting the first goal again, whereas City got on top in the minutes before the break with visiting keeper Michael Crowe doing well to keep Tommy O’Sullivan’s effort out, Healey having his effort blocked for a corner after intercepting a back pass and a combination of Crowe and one of his defenders denying Jaye Bowen.
It was something of a surprise that the match was still goalless at half time and the early signs were that the second period might not be as open as the first had been. The first fifteen minutes or so after the break only produced one opportunity for either side which both featured Ipswich centreback Matt Clarke -the first coming when he missed his header right in front of the City goal from about six yards out when he came up for a free kick and the second when he fired a Kane Owen cross towards his own net only for the ball to fortunately hit Crowe from point blank range and fly to safety.
After that freakish escape for the visitors I began to wonder if the game would ever see a goal when three of them came along in the space of about four minutes! For the first of them, Ipswich right back and captain Kyle Hammond did really well to go past three opponents and cross low from the bye line for Amir Berkane to fire low into the net for the visitors to go into a lead which flattered them on the balance of play. However, within less than a minute, they looked well on their way to the three points when another fine cross (this time from the left) enabled Lee to show his far post heading ability with an effort which was placed to perfection beyond Wilson to double the Ipswich lead.
Lee had been warned for use of the elbows on Yorwerth when they contested a high ball in the first half (it was the sort of incident which would have had the home crowd baying for a red card in a first team match, but in these more “genteel” surroundings, all that happened was that he got a lecture from the ref without seeing a card of any colour) and it typified an interesting physical battle between the two of them in which the City youngster did not back away an inch – Lee went off to applause shortly afterwards and gave the crowd an Ayatollah as he departed the pitch.
Facing their first home defeat of the season, City pushed Tommy O’Sullivan forward from midfield to accompany Healey and he got the goal needed virtually straight away when he broke clear from a Theo Wharton pass to round Crowe and calmly find the net.
With the game still not yet in it’s final quarter, it seemed that there was plenty of time for City to turn level things up and even go on to win, but, surprisingly, chances for either side were at a premium after that as the clock ticked towards the ninety minute mark and, as the match went into added time there had only been a shot which flew just wide with Wilson beaten by Ipwich’s impressive winger Darren McQueen which threatened a goal.
For me, City had fallen into the trap of knocking in too many high crosses that were food and drink to the Ipwsich centrebacks and I couldn’t see them getting on terms, but, not for the first time (and certainly not for the last!), my opinion was proved to be completely wrong when James touched on a Luke Coulson cross which sub Dane Griffiths volleyed home in style to rescue a point with about a minute left of the four which had been signalled on the fourth official’s board.
City had done well to rescue a point which, for now at least, stretches their lead at the top to eight points, but my master plan for keeping us up was in tatters and it’s back to the drawing board now I’m afraid!
* picture courtesy of http://www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk/