I honestly don’t know when the first team last had a player sent off (they’ve not had one this season yet and they didn’t have one last year) and as red cards in Academy matches are a real rarity (I’d only seen one City player red carded before today and that must be about five years ago), I reckon it was probably getting on for two years since we’d had one in a competitive match at any level until left back Kane Owen was dismissed in today’s 1-1 draw for the Under 18’s against Brighton at Leckwith. Owen was given a straight red card with about a quarter of an hour to go for a lunging tackle on the far side of the pitch form where I was sat and as I was looking directly into the sun, it’s hard to comment as to whether the sending off was justified or not – Owen showed his frustration by ripping off his captain’s armband and throwing it to the ground, but I saw no protests from any of his team mates at the decision.
If a red card was unusual at this level, it has to be said that this was quite a spicy affair from the start with tackles flying in from both sides, I must admit that City were the main transgressors as well during an opening period that Brighton dominated. That we were second best early on wasn’t too much of a surprise because the impressive midfield attacking axis of Wharton, O’Sullivan and Bowen that I remarked about after our win over Millwall a fortnight ago were all missing from this match for all but the first twenty minutes or so – the first two named were rested (presumably with Tuesday’s Development team game against Swansea in mind) and Jaye Bowen had to go off with an injury about midway through the first half.
I’d read before that sides at every level at Brighton are instructed to play the same sort of patient, build from the back, passing game that the first team plays and this was certainly true of their Under 18’s early on as they overwhelmingly dominated possession without really threatening much (I can only remember a dangerous low cross causing City any problems), but the game changed around the quarter of an hour mark when City began to press the visitors further up the pitch. Brighton looked nowhere near as assured after this and City were able to show that they could put together some good passages of play themselves, while also looking a lot more of an attacking threat than their opponents had done during their good spell.
City had the better of the rest of the first half and should have been given the chance to get the first goal when Gethyn Hill was brought down for what looked an obvious penalty when he went for a good cross after a fine run by Curtis Watkins (at least I think it was him – it was our number four anyway!), but, amazingly, the ref waved play on. The officials got it right a few minutes later though, when our number ten went on a lovely run down the right and delivered a fine cross which Hill put into the net only to be denied by a linesman’s flag for offside. At this stage, City were benefiting both from the dominance of their wide players over the Brighton full backs and the visitors continually given the ball away well inside their own half as they got into trouble trying to stick to their passing principles. Both Hill and the substitute for Bowen (wearing number 14), wasted good chances by going for goal when they could have passed to better placed colleagues and there were a few opportunities which were wasted by a careless first touch when a goal looked on. When one did come, it was against the run of play – Brighton had been coming back into things a little, but the header to put them ahead from a well delivered free kick came as a real surprise. City’s response was impressive though and they were level within a minute when the number 14 equalised from close range after the Brighton keeper had made a good diving save to keep out a well struck low shot by Ben Watkins.
That was the last action of the first half and I wandered over to the adjacent pitch as the half ended to watch the Under 16’s match for a while. As it turned out, I watched the rest of that game and will describe what I saw later on, but it did mean that I missed the bulk of the second half of the Under 18’s encounter. When I did get back to it, Owen was sent off within about five minutes of me arriving and this ensured that the pattern of the game in those few minutes before the red card was maintained until the final whistle as the visitors pressed forward looking for a winning goal. Much as in the early stages of the first half though, it was dominance for Brighton without much of an end product – City were looking tired by this stage and were hanging on as their numerical disadvantage began to tell, but apart from a fine save by Liam Matthews (who had an impressive game), they never really looked like conceding.
Therefore, a game which never provided the entertainment levels of recent Under 18 matches I’ve seen ended 1-1, but not before there had been another flashpoint as players from both sides squared up to each other. The spark for this incident was some retaliation after a City foul and I got the feeling that the two main protagonists might have got their marching orders rather than a yellow card if it had not been for the earlier sending off.
Taking into account the weakened team they had out and the sending off, this was another decent performance by the Under 18’s – I wish I could identify a few more of them because they are showing that they aren’t a bad team at all compared to some of the Under 18 sides I’ve seen since the Academy opened . There appears to be a bit more all round strength in this side and they coped well today without the three players who are probably their main match winners.
As for the Under 16’s, they were 2-0 down when I started watching, but, apart from one fine save by their keeper from a rare Brighton attack, they piled on the pressure and created chance after chance. Unfortunately only one of them was taken (by Tyler Roche who had been so impressive when he played in the Under 18’s earlier in the season), but they really should have got at least a draw from the game – based on what I saw at least.