The last time I saw the Academy Under 18s play they were very lucky to escape with a point against bottom of the table MK Dons. It was the worst performance I have seen from the Under 18s this season, but they played far better today in a 4-2 defeat by Arsenal as they more or less matched their illustrious opponents for around seventy minutes before running out of steam in the closing stages as the visitors made their extra quality count.
The first half offered the most entertainment I have seen in an Academy match this season with City threatening the Arsenal goal a couple of times early on before the visitors took charge as they looked to get in behind our defence on two or three occasions – after a couple of good saves from City keeper Reece Ottley and a shot just wide, Arsenal got it right when their number nine got clear and calmly sidefooted home. For a while after that, it looked like Arsenal might run away with the game, but City hit back when Nat Jarvis (who wore the captain’s armband despite the fact that normal skipper Jon Meades was playing) jumped for a free kick with the keeper and got the final touch to level things up.
This goal signalled the start of a period which saw two more follow within about five minutes as, firstly, Arsenal put together a fine move worthy of their first team which ended with their number eight netting. Within no time though City were level again as they showed the visitors that they didn’t have a monopoly on quality passing moves as Jarvis showed strength and skill to score from Cummings’ clever pass. Things settled down somewhat after that but City very nearly went in ahead at the break as Meades (playing in central midfield rather than his usual left back slot) clipped the crossbar with a lovely curled right footed effort.
Although Arsenal were probably unlucky not to be ahead at the interval, City had played a full part in an excellent first forty five minutes and it was almost inevitable that the second half would suffer in comparison. For a long time, the teams tended to cancel each other out with only a shot from Arsenal which flew just wide really threatening either goal, but the visitors then took the lead in controversial circumstances with around twenty minutes to go when their number nine was denied his second goal by a brilliant save by Ottley from point blank range only for the rebound to be bundled in from virtually on the line. Ottley was adamant that there had been a handball in the build up to the goal and remonstrated with the linesman for not noticing it – from where I was sitting, it looked like our keeper may have had a point.
Having already come back twice after falling behind, City almost did it for a third time but a fine save by the visiting keeper denied Jarvis his hat trick. Unfortunately, City never really threatened much after that and the visitors were able to make sure of victory in the dying minutes when their left back drilled home from the corner of the penalty area to finish off another silky passing movement.
The two goal winning margin was probably about right in the end, but City had no need to reproach themselves because they played a full part in an enjoyable and open game with Jarvis and Ottley (who looks an impressive young keeper) in particular shining.