I don’t know what it is about Cardiff sides lately that means that they have to hand the opposition three goals when they play at Cardiff City Stadium, but, it’s happened four times in the first team’s last five competitive matches and today the Under 18’s were at it as they made a gift of the game to a big, but technically limited Sheffield Wednesday team.
If City’s youngsters were very good in drawing up at Liverpool last week, they were equally as poor in the opening half today in front of decent sized crowd at the main stadium. Without skipper Joe Ralls to knit things together in the middle of the park, City struggled from the off against bigger opponents who showed a better appetite for the game than our kids. Challenges were being lost all over the park as play continuously headed towards the City goal, but, although Wednesday were the stronger team in terms of physique and power, they looked pretty ordinary on the technical front and so there were not many chances to show for twenty minutes or so of complete dominance at the start of the match.
Ironically, when a goal did come it was at a time when City were enjoying their best spell of the half – Jesse Darko, who looked capable of causing problems if he could get a better service, headed against the bar and Tom O’Sullivan was denied a goal from the rebound by a brave diving save from the Wednesday keeper, while a Jaye Bowen inswinging corner found it’s way into the net, only for the goal to be disallowed by a fussy referee, who thought we had all turned up to watch him, for a push. The visitors first goal came from the penalty spot after Mamadou Diallo brought down a Wednesday player as he prepared to shoot following a cleverly worked short free kick – if the penalty award was a fair one, I’m not sure the same could be said for the free kick which had been given just before it for an alleged push by a City player.
The penalty was put away with little fuss and I’m afraid that City rather fell apart after that. Ben Nugent was caught out as City’s defence let what should have been a harmless long ball find it’s way through to the Wednesday left winger who cut inside and curled a lovely shot against the crossbar – the ball then being turned in by a team mate who had been following in. It went from bad to worse after that after Wednesday broke from a City corner and, once again, a routine long ball forward opened the defence up. Keeper Liam Matthews was left facing a one on one and sent the Wednesday player sprawling. It was definitely a foul, but City disputed the penalty award on the grounds that the incident happened outside the penalty area -if I had been sat in my normal seat I might have been able to say whether they had any justification in their argument, but it was impossible to tell from about sixty yards away. Once again, the penalty was scored with ease and City trooped off at the break three goals down – I never like being critical of our youngsters, but it had been pretty dreadful stuff.
Neil Ardley doesn’t strike me as a teacup thrower, but, judging by the contrast between City’s first half showing and their performance after the break, some harsh words were said in the dressing room at half time. City had shown themselves to be the more gifted team when they had the chance to play some football, but they were losing the physical battle by a distance and the introduction of the French pair Yannis Drais and Kevin Saint Luce helped even things up a bit on that score. The latter was soon forcing the Wednesday keeper into a smart diving save and there was no doubt that the mood of the game had now changed completely. City forced countless corners and at times it seemed that a goal just had to come as the ball bounced around close to the Wednesday goal just crying out for someone to whack it in, but when City did finally make their pressure count, it came from an error from the previously impressive keeper who allowed a Tom O’Sullivan shot to roll just over the line. When Saint Luce fired just wide after a clever pass from Oshilala, there was a definite feeling that City could still get something from the game, but time was running out and it needed the help of the referee to keep those hopes alive with about ten minutes to go – I don’t think I was the only one who was baffled at the decision to award a penalty after a scramble in the Wednesday box, but City weren’t complaining and Darko coolly slotted home to make it 3-2.
Wednesday were now hanging on desperately and their goal led something of a charmed life in the closing minutes as Oshilala (at least I think it was him) hit the crossbar and some frantic last ditch defending kept City out, but time eventually ran out and the visitors clung on for what was in the end a slightly fortunate win. It’s easy to feel sorry for City after coming so close to pulling off an amazing comeback and players like O’Sullivan, Darko and Oshilala didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, but they really were their own worst enemy today after such a slow start. Although I would have thought they would lap up such a chance, maybe playing at the club’s home stadium is a bit too much for our youngsters at this stage of their career – I may be wrong here, but, I think our Under 18’s have lost the last five games they have played at Cardiff City Stadium/Ninian Park and in four of those games they have found themselves at least two goals down at half time.