Despite Wales being dragged down to Argentina’s level (according to Radio Wales anyway) in their final World Cup warm up match, yesterday was wall to wall football for me. At 10.30 there was the opportunity to watch City’s first competitive Academy match of the season as their visit to Liverpool was shown live by their television channel. This was followed by a visit to Spytty Park to watch Newport County take on Grimsby while keeping abreast of how the game at Burnley was going. I then came home to watch Peterborough’s astonishing 7-1 win over an Ipswich side featuring two ex Cardiff players who jogged about looking like they wanted to be anywhere but London Road (neither lasted the full ninety minutes, with one of them being replaced by another City old boy Mark Kennedy).
In many ways, the best came first as City’s kids first stood up to and then came very close to getting the better of a Liverpool team that had averaged five goals a game in their pre season matches. After a nervy start in which some of the side looked a little daunted by the opposition, the television cameras and the plush surroundings of Liverpool’s, Kirby based, Academy. City settled down to give as good as they got in a competitive first half short in goalmouth action – the home side probably should have taken the lead when one of their subs was given a clear sight of goal shortly after being introduced, but keeper Richards was quickly out to block the shot, while an inswinging Theo Wharton corner was cleared off the line by a Liverpool full back. The best chance for City in the first period though came when Jessie Darko lobbed over the keeper, but also over the bar.
The second half continued in much the same way as the first, but it was noticeable that Liverpool were becoming increasingly frustrated by a team that I’m sure they would have expected to beat comfortably beforehand. City, well served at centeback by the towering Josh Yorwerth and the dependable Adedeji Oshilala, began to get a grip on things in midfield with skipper Joe Ralls and Wharton becoming more involved, when a fine ball by sub Luke Jones put Darko through again. The chance was not taken, but some classy work by Ralls gave another sub, Yannis Drais, the chance to cross low into the six yard box and a clear handball in the scramble which followed gave Ralls the opportunity to put City ahead from the penalty spot, which he confidently accepted by sending the keeper the wrong way. The chance was there for our under 18’s to record a win which would rival the 5-1 victory over Man United four years ago as our best since gaining Academy status, but a fine shot from twenty yards levelled things up with around a quarter of an hour left and, although the home side missed a good chance right at the death, City were able to leave with a thoroughly deserved 1-1 draw that represented a very encouraging start to their 2011/12 campaign.
As for the senior team, well, after Wednesday’s disappointment, a visit to Burnley fell into the accept a point before a ball is kicked category for me. However, we had barely settled into our places at Spytty Park when news of Burnley’s goal inside two minutes came through – this was greeted with a resigned shrug, it looked like it was going to be one of those days. That impression continued through most of the first half with the fact that three of our back four were booked in the first period seeming to be an indication of how much we were struggling.
When City equalised, five minutes or so before half time, the words “against the run of play” were repeated over and over again by the Radio Wales commentators, but what could not be denied was that it was a neat, well worked goal. Our new midfield hard man, Peter Whittingham won the ball and Andrew Taylor picked out a lovely little cross which Earnie took one touch to control and another to dispatch beyond Grant in the home goal. It was a typical striker’s goal and so it was quite appropriate that it should be Earnie’s two hundredth in his career. There are those who feel Earnie should make way for someone like Rudy Gestede in the starting line up and, sadly, it seems that the Earnshaw/Miller partnership is still not functioning, but in our last three matches, during which he has scored twice, a decent argument could be made to say he has been our most effective player.
The second half passed off more quietly than the first and there was no more scoring, but the clear impression was given that we had escaped with a point and that Burnley had deserved to win. However, when I spoke to a couple of people who had been at the game last night, they were a lot more upbeat about matters compared to the media, saying that the team had played their hearts out and had shown strength to come through their first half dodgy spell – they were pleased with what they had seen. Whichever version is closer to the truth, I think it is encouraging that the tactical changes Malky Mackay made (he switched from the “diamond” midfield he had been using to a straight 4-4-2) had a positive effect and, seemingly, improved our level of performance – it would be wrong to say that Dave Jones was incapable of making tactical changes that worked, but it didn’t happen all that often.
I suppose I have to mention the Newport v Grimsby match, but it really was awful. Perhaps I had been spoilt by the Dean Holdsworth County side of the past two seasons, but the seven or eight times I watched them over that period were all entertaining affairs and I could not help but be impressed by the football they played. It would not be fair to judge Anthony Hudson’s team on just the one showing, but County were poorer yesterday than they were in any of those other games I mentioned and there was little of the slick passing game that had them marked down as genuine promotion contenders during the first half of last season.
To be fair, Grimsby, whose fans would have been dreaming of Premiership football a decade ago, set themselves up exactly as you would expect a side without a goal or a point so far to. They were physical, niggly and hardly ever threatened the County goal, but they also worked very hard and there was nothing wrong with their spirit. Apart from spells just before and after half time, County weren’t good enough to suggest they could break down Grimsby’s resistance, but they were handed a chance they didn’t deserve with a quarter of an hour to go by the officials when a linesman signalled a dubious looking penalty and the visitor’s centreback Kempson (who had been one of their most solid performers) was red carded. Play was held up for some time as Grimsby players and supporters vented their fury at the officials and’ judging by the feeble penalty he took, the delay must have effected Craig McAllister as keeper McKeown was always going to save it as long as he chose the right way to dive. The match finished with the 0-0 scoreline it deserved, but, from a City point of view anyway, it hadn’t been a bad day at all – two, tough looking, away games and two hard earned 1-1 draws.