Once or twice a season the Academy Under 18 side gets the chance to lord it on the big stage which is Cardiff City Stadium instead of slumming it on what can often resemble windy wastelands at Leckwith Stadium or Treforest. Often in the past, our kids have not coped well with this step up, but they certainly did last night as they almost managed to raise the body temperatures of the watching spectators (the nearly full car park outside the main entrance suggested it might have reached four figures) to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit by coming up with was was probably the most noteworthy result for our youth team since they beat Manchester United 5-1 in 2007.
I suppose there’s been a score of Cardiff 6 Swansea 1 at some level in the long history of matches between the two South Wales rivals before, but it’s certainly never happened at senior level and last night’s win came as a complete shock because the Under 18′s have hardly been racking up the wins lately (there had been only one of them since the end of October). Yet, the final score didn’t flatter them at all – in fact, you got the impression that they eased off somewhat after racing into a 5-0 lead after 47 minutes.
The game started with a bitterly cold wind blowing through the stadium (unusual for the new ground which is designed in a way which normally reduces the impact of the strongest of gales), but it never became too much of a factor because both sides tried, by and large, to keep the ball on the deck. In the first few minutes Swansea did a pretty passable impression of their first team as they dominated possession, but that spell was broken, and never returned, once visiting goalkeeper Oliver Davies’ weak kick out landed at the feet of Anthony Bell some thirty five yards out and he struck an immediate shot which forced Davies into a diving save.
City almost scored from the resultant corner, but they weren’t to be denied for long and took the lead after ten minutes when my Man of the Match Tommy O’Sullivan cleverly worked himself some space and placed a fine left foot shot from the edge of the penalty area high up into the net beyond Davies. Three minutes later the lead was doubled – new signing Rhys Healey had already shown that he possessed a decent long throw and his second one saw Josh Yorwerth, I think it was, glance a header home as Davies rued his decision to come off his line to deal with things. It wasn’t all one way traffic, a fluent move down their left by Swansea ended with a close range shot which beat David Richards in the Cardiff goal, but flew inches wide and about ten minutes later, captain Kane Owen was grateful to Yorwerth for a great block of a goalbound shot after he had lost possession by the corner flag.
City were 3-0 up by this time though, with Rhys Healey scoring his first goal for the club with a neat finish from six yards as he converted a cross from the right after Swansea appeals for offside were turned down. After their quickfire start, City found chances harder to come by in the second quarter, but they always seemed to be capable of stepping things up when they wanted to – an example of this was shown about five minutes before the break, when O’Sullivan received a short free kick on the edge of the penalty area and looked set to try and get a repeat of his fine goal, but, instead, he chose to drift a clever pass into the middle where Yorwerth arrived unmarked to stab in from about eight yards.
Four goals behind at the interval, Swansea might have entertained hopes of “winning” the second half, but even that consolation looked beyond them when Anthony Bell made it 5-0 with a crisp left foot shot from twenty yards after Healey had been dispossessed in the act of shooting. As mentioned earlier, the match tended to meander along after this – Healey probably should have scored when Bell put him through, but Davies made his best save of the night to foil him and Swansea cashed in on what appeared to be some confusion in the City ranks as to who was supposed to be playing where after Yorwerth and Wharton were replaced by Ben Watkins and Thomas James around the hour mark, when centre forward Alex Samuel scored from point blank range following a corner.
Cramp became a factor for some City players as the effects of playing on such a big pitch for, perhaps, the first time in their lives were seen – Bell was replaced by Jay Bowen and right winger Dane Griffiths was switched to centre forward as he found the going tough. However, Healey, who had moved to the right to accommodate this change, then broke forward as the game went into it’s last ten minutes and put over a fine low cross which Griffiths swept home to complete the scoring.
I thought City’s dominance stemmed from their central midfield trio – Bradley Williams was strong, hard working and technically good, but it was Wharton and O’Sullivan, with their ability to beat their opponent in confined spaces and pass the ball effectively and accurately, who really took the eye. Both of these players are now used as much by the Under 21 side as they are by the Under 18′s and, at times, O’Sullivan in particular has found it hard to cope against bigger and stronger opponents, but they have shown before that they were both good players at this level and the benefits of performing regularly at the next step up were clear here – they were a class apart.
Finally, a word on our signing from Connahs Quay, Rhys Healey – based on this one showing, I think his former manager was being optimistic when he said he would be challenging for a first team place within a year of signing for us, but his clever movement, surprising strength for his size, neat control and lay off’s and appreciation of what was happening around him say he’s got a chance of making that step up one day.by The other Bob Wilson
Bristol City may have won a game by 4-2 against us this season, but the match with that score which really counts (I’m not being entirely serious there!) was played out this morning at Leckwith as The Academy Under 18 team came back from going 2-0 down early on to gain their second win of the season by scoring four unanswered goals to win an encounter which was as open and entertaining as the scoreline suggests.
I could say that the lack of detail in this piece in terms of who did what and when is down to the fact that there was so much going on that it was hard to keep track of everything that happened. To a small degree that would be true because this was one of those games where both teams could easily have scored two or three more, but, to be honest, it’s down to a few other factors which occur season in, season out when watching the Academy team play. Firstly, there’s the simple fact that every year at least half of the team you got used to watching changes as the new influx from the Under 16′s come in to replace those who are now too old to play at this level. For a while at least at the start of the season, the task of identifying players is made a little easier easier because matches are played at Treforest where you are right next to the action, but, just as you start to realise who’s who, they move games to Leckwith where you gain a nice stand to sit in to keep you dry and out of the wind, but the players who were just 50 yards away from you, at most, are now often more than double that distance away!
When you are someone who is constantly getting reminders that your long distance eyesight is nowhere near as good as it once was and the numbers on City’s new red shirts seem to be a kind of off white/pink (the strange thing is I have no trouble reading the numbers on the first team shirts, but they are barely recognisable on thew Under 18′s kit), then identifying players becomes next to impossible and so I apologise in advance to those who do something deserving of praise only for me to say someone else did it and likewise to anyone who I criticise for making a mistake which was actually down to one of their team mates.
Anyway, on to the football – this was the first game to be played since the departure of Academy Manager Neal Ardley to AFC Wimbledon and it soon became apparent that, in his absence, City had switched from their usual 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation to 4-4-2 with Tommy O’Sullivan (who has been playing in midfield for the past season or so) pushed up to play alongside Gethyn Hill. Even with my dodgy eyesight, it was easy to make out the dreadlocked figure of Lee Skyrme on the touchline and I presume he was in charge and responsible for the change in approach, but, whoever was, the new system could not stop the team falling behind within a couple of minutes of the start as our number eleven gave the ball away for the second time in the game – his mistake went unpunished the first time, but on the second occasion, Bristol’s number 11 took the ball on twenty yards and comfortably beat the advancing Liam Matthews from around the edge of the penalty area.
City responded well to this setback and the wurzels keeper did superbly to keep out the first of many impressive dead ball deliveries from left back Kane Owen as his inswinging free kick looked bound for the bottom corner until the goalkeeper’s interventiion – he then got down to keep out low shot from Jaye Bowen after he had beaten a couple of defenders in a fine run as he cut in from the touchline. However, although City looked capable of equalising, they were living dangerously at the other end and when the wurzels got in on City’s right hand side a bit too easily, the cut back cross was met by their number ten whose crisply hit shot from twenty yards doubled his sides lead around the twenty minute mark
Play continued to swing from end to end, but, whereas the visitors were able to get shots away virtually every time they attacked, City were unable to take advantage of the promising situations they were finding themselves because when the keeper wan’t foiling them, invariably a defender would get a last ditch block or tackle in to keep them out. However, it’s harder to get those defensive blocks in when you have to stand ten yards away from a free kick taker and when they had to defend a free kick in a fairly central position twenty five yards from goal, Bristol cut not keep the ball out of their net this time as the impressive Bowen’s free kick curled just out of the reach of the diving keeper to make it 2-1 after half an hour. Ten minutes later, City were on terms and it was from another free kick – this time Owen’s excellent cross to the far post was met by O’Sullivan whose header from six yards gave the keeper no chance.
A breathless first half ended with the score at 2-2 which, possibly, was a little harsh on the visitors, but, after the break City took charge with their slicker passing forcing the wurzels back most of the time – there were still some opportunities for Bristol, but these tended to come when City carelessly gave the ball away in dangerous positions – the wurzels were unable to create much off their own bat though, whereas City were not connecting with the sort of passes that had been going fractionally astray early in the game. This change in the pattern of the game was best illustrated about ten minutes into the second half when City put together the best passage of passing in the game as they patiently and cleverly moved the ball from left to right and then into space down the touchline for our number twelve to pull back a cross which found it’s way to O’Sullivan (at least I think it was him) who smacked a great shot into the corner of the net to give his team a lead which had looked beyond them half an hour earlier.
From then on, City were able to see the game out fairly comfortably – Hill hit the post with a header he probably should have done better with when Bowen sent over a fine cross from the right, but with about ten minutes left, another good move ended with the striker fed one of substitutes (number 14) and he made the game safe with a close range finish. Great entertainment then and, with the Under 16′s, apparently, beating their Bristol City counterparts 3-0 it was a good day all round for our youngsters – shame the same cannot be said about the first team who find themselves 3-0 down at Forest as I type this!by The other Bob Wilson