A very good crowd of just over 1.300 saw City’s Under 18’s bow out of the Youth Cup at Cardiff City Stadium with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of a Tottenham Hotspur team that had beaten them twice this season already in Academy fixtures. To be honest, I thought the score flattered us a little in the end, but, if City had been able to cash in on their first half purple patch when they got right on top for about a quarter of an hour, then there might well have been a different outcome.
The spell of dominance started around the quarter of an hour mark when Theo Wharton, fresh from his first team debut at West Brom on Saturday, fizzed a shot from around twenty five yards just over the bar. Within a couple of minutes, some slick passing involving the influential Tom O’Sullivan put target man Jesse Darko in on goal. Darko, who has been a regular in the City development side’s games lately and has therefore played little youth football in recent months, was putting away chances like this one with no problems for the Academy team in the opening weeks of the season, but this time he fired over when he should at least have got his shot on target.
The centre forward did better shortly after when he got a looping cross in from virtually on the bye line which eluded Grainger and bounced invitingly in front of an empty net about five yards from goal, but there was no home player there to provide the finish. After this though, the balance of power began to change a bit as Spurs, without really threatening too much, began to take a degree of control on proceedings – Grainger, who had his dodgy moments with his kicking especially, got down well to block a snap shot by O’Sullivan, but this was from what was now an isolated City attack and not too long afterwards, the visitors took a real grip on proceedings by scoring twice in a minute.
To my mind, there was a degree of luck about the first goal in that what appeared to be nothing more than a boot forward found the dangerous Souleymane Coulibaly in a lot of space down the left hand side. The striker did well to take the ball to the byeline where his low cross was eventually hammered by Jack Munns on the far post from about eight yards out.Within no time at all, City keeper David Richards was picking the ball out of the net again after a goal which City could and, probably should, have prevented after centreback Josh Powell tried to be too clever when dealing with a ball down City’s left flank – Powell attempted to nick the ball past the challenging Spurs player, but, instead lost possession and left the defence dangerously exposed. There was still a lot to be done by Spurs to turn the chance into a goal though, but they did so with some style as a pinpoint cross was neatly headed in by Coulibaly who then indulged in one of the more eccentric back flip celebrations as both of his efforts ended with him falling over and ending up on his back.
Coulibaly’s celebrations might not have been up to much, but his football was a different matter as he played a prominent part from then on in ensuring that Spurs got to half time and beyond with their dominance intact. City came out after the break with renewed enthusiasm and a lovely pass from around the halfway line seemed to have given Darko a run in on goal until the Spurs keeper and one of their central defenders combined to snuff out the chance. Apart from that though, further goals from Spurs looked more likely as home keeper Richards embarked on a series of fine second half saves. Another striker, Gethyn Hill, was brought on for winger Declan John, but City were now struggling to create chances and it came as something of a shock when Darko moved on to a neat through ball and fired home low past Grainger from around fifteen yards with about a quarter of the game to go.
That out of the blue goal could have signalled a really exciting finish as City laid siege to the Spurs goal, but it didn’t happen because, unluckily, Darko was injured in scoring and had to be replaced soon afterwards (as was left back Bradley Wickham who had been getting forward to good purpose at times). Jordan Carter and Kane Owen were the City replacements, but, Darko, especially, was missed because City had lost that focal point they could build attacks around. To be honest, the only time an equaliser looked on after City reduced the deficit was when Grainger lost the ball when trying to deal with a free kick and it bounced in front of goal with no one able to force it over the line before the keeper regained possession. Apart from that, it was Spurs who looked the more likely goalscorers as one free kick from the edge of the penalty area flew inches wide and another was well kept out by a diving Richards, who then produced a stunning save to keep out a long range shot by visiting left back Barthram.
There was no way back for City despite four minutes of added time and, truth be told, they were beaten by a better team in my opinion. In saying that though, our youngsters acquitted themselves well in a match that was offered good entertainment. As so often has been the case though in the seven years I’ve been watching City Academy sides play, we were at a physical disadvantage in that, generally, our opponents were bigger and a bit more powerful than us. This difference wasn’t as marked as I’ve seen it in the past, but, although City had, by and large, not suffered in comparison with Spurs in terms of individual technique, they struggled at times to compete physically.
One player that doesn’t struggle in that department is Josh Yorwerth who also played with an impressive degree of composure on the ball at times and was a City man of the match contender. However, he needed the help of a very sympathetic ref who, having only booked him for a tackle which, for me, would have got a definite red card at senior level, then chose to take no further action for another poor tackle by the centreback or a later, but not so bad, lunge which resulted in another free kick conceded in a dangerous position, to see out the ninety minutes. Wharton showed flashes of the ability and confidence which has him now training with the first team regularly, O’Sullivan again showed himself to be a clever player with an ability to spot and deliver a killer pass and captain Adam Davies put himself about in central midfield to good effect at times, but I think David Richards did as well as anyone – without him, City would have lost much more heavily than they did.
One last thing, I’ve already mentioned the fine turn out for the match and it seems pretty obvious that the club were caught on the hop somewhat by the number of people who attended, so, to some extent at least, I shouldn’t be too critical of them. That said though, having to, first, join a queue which stretched back around 100 yards to pay for and be given a match ticket, then join another one almost as long to get it scanned through a single machine before, finally, being able to get into the ground, did seem a bit like overkill to me – it also led to many missing something like the first quarter of an hour of the game.
* photo courtesy of http://www.tottenhamhotspur.com/