Three weeks ago, City’s Under 18’s played out a very entertaining Friday afternoon 0-0 draw in which they could, and probably should, have defeated top of the table Leicester City. Unfortunately, while that afternoon saw our kids at their best, yesterday afternoon saw them at their worst as they were comfortably second best to the Academy team of a side playing at a lower first team level than we do – Southampton leaving with a fully deserved 3-1 win (that was the score when I left a minute or so before the end anyway).
I got to Leckwith Stadium a couple of minutes after kick off and the first things I saw were City having a penalty shout turned down while forcing a corner and Jessie Darko being only inches away from connecting with a fine cross by Jordan Jackson – it soon became clear though that any early dominance they might have had was not going to last as the visitors took command of things. That said, apart from three headers from separate dead ball situations that they should have made more of, Southampton were just as insipid in front of goal as City were during a dull first half hour.
When a team did score, it was a shock to see it was City who netted because they had not done anything whatsoever to threaten the Southampton goal apart from that early flurry of pressure – there was a bit of quality to the goal as well as Darko’s good header from around the penalty spot area found the corner of the net following Ibby Farah’s free kick out on the right hand side.
Despite the visitors continuing to look the better side, City were able to hold on to their lead pretty comfortably up to and beyond the half time break and, as the game entered it’s final quarter, there were a few signs that City could go on to win as the Southampton goalkeeper was finally called on to make a couple of saves in quick succession. The flow of the game was still primarily towards our goal though and, with a quarter of an hour or so to go, the visitors finally drew level when a long and very high ball which must have had snow on it dropped into an awkward area for keeper Reece Ottley who, looking into the strong sun, missed his punch – City were always in trouble once that had happened and, although Ottley almost put things right with a good close range block, he was unlucky when the ball went straight back to a Southampton forward who scored easily.
Soon afterwards it was 2-1 when Southampton put together a move of a quality that we never came anywhere near matching as they counter attacked from a City corner – a slight deflection off one of our subs as he tried to get a tackle in worked in the visitor’s favour, but they still did very well to work a situation where the goalscorer was left free six yards from goal to head in a left wing cross. Yes, there had been a little luck in both of their goals, but with their better play throughout, Southampton had earned that good fortune and they weren’t flattered by a third goal in the dying minutes courtesy of another incisive counter attack.
Although they were clearly the better team, Southampton weren’t that great themselves mind and I have seen us play better teams than them this season. For much of the ninety minutes, both sides struggled to cope on a pitch that was hard and lively, but, in saying that, conditions were worse against Leicester when a similar dry pitch was accompanied by a strong wind that was absent yesterday and if City had played to the standard they had that day, I believe they could have won. Not for the first time though, I came away from a late season game thinking that a combination of dry pitches and the very light ball used these days does not make for good quality football at this time of year.
One other thing to mention while I remember were the officials. While their decisions didn’t have any direct influence on the outcome, it seemed to me that they gave us virtually nothing throughout the game – maybe it was just me and my City supporting bias, but, by the end of the game I was finding it quite funny how all of the 50/50 decisions were going in favour of Southampton.
As for City players who took my eye, well, being honest, it was a little bit like the recent Barnsley match in that no one did until we made a substitution. I’m pretty sure it was Joe Ralls who came off the bench in the second half and, virtually as soon as he came on, he made both controlling and passing the ball look a lot easier than those who had started the game had done – not everything he tried came off and a few of the balls he attempted went astray, but, in general, his passing was on a higher plane than anyone else’s in a blue shirt and I can only presume that he didn’t start because he was carrying some sort of minor injury.