I’m not exagerating when I say that at times, Cardiff City’s Under 18’s were as impressive as any Academy side I’ve seen represent the club during this lunchtime’s match with league leaders Brentford at Leckwith. However, they ended up losing by 2-1 after a dramatic fade out in the last quarter of the game which saw the away side snatch a win that they certainly didn’t deserve with a fine goal in the eighty sixth minute.
I daresay anyone supporting Brentford who was at the game will find my judgement on the validity of the their win to be a harsh one – credit to them, they finished the game very strongly and took their chances when they came, but they were second best for most of the time and City should have been out of sight before Brentford were given the penalty which changed the game.
City started slightly the better of the two teams and the visitors were sometimes living dangerously as their policy of building from the back almost misfired a few times, but the last man was always able to scrape the ball clear just when it looked like a City player would be in on goal. As both sides struggled to create a worthwhile opening, it became obvious that this was going to be a much tighter affair than last season’s goal fest at Leckwith which up in a 5-4 win for the visitors. However, Brentford did briefly show the sort of quality that had given them such a good record this season when a fluent passing movement created a decent chance for one of their strikers, but keeper Joe Massaro was off his line quickly to block and when, the ball broke to the visitor’s number 11 he wanted too many touches and City’s defence was able to smother his follow up effort as the chance was lost.
Up until then, the only time the Brentford goal was threatened was when the impressive Robbie Patten (my City man of the match) missed his kick as a corner dropped to him. This was a rare error by the defensive midfielder who barely wasted a pass as he played his role to perfection in terms of both use of the ball and the ability to win it back.
Patten went closer as City finished the first half impressively when their best move so far ended with him shooting against the foot of the post with the Brentford keeper beaten, but, in attacking terms it was the shaven headed Lloyd Humprhies who was taking the eye. This was my first look at him and he certainly impressed in the number ten role as someone with the sort of natural ability which has come to characterise the wearer of that shirt in the modern game. Humprhies had already taken the eye with his touch and vision when a delightful back heal sent Abdi Noor into space down the right. Nothing came of that, but, shortly afterwards, he showed more evidence of his excellent technique when giving City the lead. Jake Watkins got to the byeline and put over a dangerous looking cross which the Brentford keeper looked to have punched to safety, but Humprhries adjusted his body position superbly to hit a fierce shot into the roof of the net from about ten yards out.
There was little time left before the interval when the goal went in, but Humphries almost made it two as City finished the first half on top – Patten’s lovely pass put Noor into space and his low cross was met by Humprhies who, again, showed fine technique in keeping his half volley down, but the keeper did very well to keep out the fierce effort.
If City had been dominant just before the break, then it was virtually one way traffic during the third quarter. Having distinguished himself seconds before the interval, Brentford’s keeper did the same thing within a minute or two of the start of second half as he turned a header by commanding centre back Rollin Menayese from a Humprhies free kick around the post. Abdi Noor was now showing examples of his dribbling ability as he became more involved on the left after spending the first forty five minutes on City’s right, but his wasteful first time finish when Massaro’s long clearance left him in on goal in some ways summed up a display from the gifted winger which promised more than it delivered.
Especially impressive at this stage was City’s pressing of the ball in their forward areas – Brentford were struggling to cope and a loose pass across their own goal gave Watkins a chance from the edge of the penalty area which did not go far over. Next up, Eli Phipps, so impressive with his work rate and closing down, was a bit greedy as he went for goal from a very difficult angle and ignored better placed colleagues inside him.
Quite often, when a side is dominating but only a goal in front, you think they need to get a second to make things safe. However, City were so comfortable at this stage that it was hard not to believe that the points were theirs even if their goal threat began to diminish somewhat. That said, there were one or two little signs of carelessness and a bit of over confidence on show as the game passed the hour mark, but there was little to hint at the complete transformation that was to come.
The process began when Brentford’s left winger was brought down by right back Tom Pearson to give the visitors the chance to equalise from the spot. The incident took place a long way way from where I was sat, but it looked like a penalty and the lack of any real protest from the home players suggested that the referee had got the decision right.
Massaro went the wrong way and so, Brentford were, somehow, level. For most of the game it had looked like there was only going to be one winner and from this point onwards the same thing applied except the roles had been reversed!
The saying “hitting the wall” is used in marathon running to describe what happens when an athlete suddenly runs out of steam with no prior warning. Although the results weren’t as dramatic as you sometimes get when runners start reeling all over the place as if drunk, collectively City’s legs went at this stage.
Perhaps the pressing which had looked so impressive at the time had been too intense, but, whatever the reason, City had very little left in the tank now and Brentford, sensing they could snatch an unlikely win, began to rack up the corners as the home defending became more desperate. There was never the remotest prospect of City regaining their lead, but when Massaro made a brilliant save to keep out a deflected shot, it seemed they would at least cling on for a point, but that was denied them when one of Brentford’s midfield players smashed in a looping shot from twenty five yards with Massaro helpless this time.
So, the Under 18’s unbeaten run of five games comes to an end – there was so much that was good about their showing today and I suppose the way to look at things at this level is that if lessons are learned from defeats then that’s the main thing with developing footballers – I’m sure there aren’t many in the team feeling like that at the moment, but I’d guess that their coaches are.