Under 18’s begin life without Ardley in style.

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!

Tommy O’Sullivan – what with my fading eyesight and barely readable shirt numbers, he may have scored once, twice or not at all for the Under 18’s today in their 4-2 win over Bristol City!

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!

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