After weeks of sitting on substitutes benches, barely getting on to the pitch, Kim Bo-Kyung finally got his chance to show City fans what he could do last Saturday when he started for the first time against Burnley and the, seemingly, unanimous consensus was that he took it with both hands. However, it’s been even tougher for another of our summer seven figure signings – Slovenian striker Etien Velikonja featured in most of our pre season games and scored a good goal in the 4-1 demolition of Newcastle, but, after substitute appearances at Brighton and Bristol City early in the campaign, he has not even made the bench in our last three matches.
All of this means that last night’s Under 21 Development squad game with Millwall at Cardiff City Stadium was the first competitive football he had played in over two months. It was to be expected therefore that there would be a little evidence of rustiness in some of his play in the first half especially, but, taking his performance as a whole, he could not really have done much more to signal to Malky Mackay that he is still around and ready to step into the first team if needed than score a hat trick in what was, in the end, an emphatic 4-0 win for his side.
It has to be said mind, that, apart from their experienced goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall, it was a young and inexperienced Millwall side who, according to their man in charge Scott Fitzgerald, face a long and tough season as their mixture of first year pros and second year Academy scholars come up against opposition with far more experience than them. That was certainly the case last night and I wonder if there will be many sides put out in the Under 21 competition which will include ten players with first team experience in it this season like City’s did last night.
The rules of the league mean that three outfield over age players can be selected as well as a keeper and so it was that Velikonja, Craig Conway and Joe Lewis all played in addition to Steve McPhail who played for the first hour as he made a very welcome return after his injury and illness wrecked opening three months of the campaign. Joe Ralls and the on loan Kerim Frei also started and there were four others in the line up who had played in the League Cup tie at Northampton back in early August, along with a further four substitutes who had also been members of the eighteen that day.
Maybe the difference in experience and ability between the two sides led to some complacency in the Cardiff ranks early on, because they certainly got off to a careless start. Within thirty seconds a poor back pass (I was sure it was by Ralls, but the official site says it was Declan John) gave O’Brien the visitors centre forward a great opportunity which he hit over the bar and the same player headed narrowly wide about ten minutes later before a well hit shot from twenty five yards by Summutis shortly afterwards was fumbled on to the crossbar by Joe Lewis before the ball bounced back into the relieved, and lucky, keeper’s hands.
All of this time, City were enjoying a virtually monopoly of possession without looking any where near as threatening as Millwall did – all that began to change around the fifteen minute mark however as they warmed to their task. Deji Oshilaja probably should have done better with a header from a Conway corner, Velikonja fired wide and just too high within quick succession, Ralls’ volley was well kept out by Mildenhall and, after running the full width of the pitch from right to left, Conway then cut back into centre field again to fire a long range shot just wide with the keeper beaten as the pressure mounted on the visitor’s goal. However, after Velikonja’s shot was diverted wide for a corner after McPhail’s superb reverse pass looked to have put him through and Nat Jarvis missed the chance of the half when rolling the ball agonisingly wide after Mildenhall and centre half De Havilland had made a mess of a long ball, it looked like Millwall would get through to the interval with their goal intact.
That all changed though just as the fourth official was putting the board up to show how much added time was going to be added on – Frei (who showed one or two very good things while generally looking to be playing within himself as he looked to regain match sharpness after his injury) ran about twenty yards through the centre of the pitch before releasing Velikonja who from the edge of the penalty area hit a low, left footed drive past Mildenhall to give his team a well deserved lead.
Although City remained in control of proceedings and were looking comfortable, they didn’t create the chances they had done earlier during the opening stages of the second half and McPhail and Frei left the action around the hour mark to be replaced by Tommy O’Sullivan and Kevin Sainte-Luce. Both of the subs did well (as did Jesse Darko when he replaced Jarvis for the last quarter of an hour or so), but it was it was the one member of the side who had not played for the City first team who imposed himself on the game as City found the goals in the final third of the match to go with their dominance.
Luke Coulson, an eighteen year old right back was released by Manchester City in May after ten years at that club and from there went to America to study and play sarker at Michigan University. According to this piece, he returned to Britain recently to sign for a Premiership team – perhaps they know something about next season we don’t yet! Whatever (to keep the American theme going), Coulson was wearing the number two shirt for us last night and, after a first half where he did well while concentrating more on the defensive side of things, he showed himself to be very effective going forward as the game went on. It was Coulson’s fine run and cross which led to Velikonja doubling the lead with a far post header and he provided the assist for the third goal as well as he looked to get himself into a shooting position only to, seemingly, take a heavy touch which, deliberately or not, turned out to be a neat pass to Jarvis who shot into the top of the net from around fifteen yards out.
With Coulson and Sainte-Luce providing a stream of crosses from the right and Conway and the again impressive Declan J0hn doing the same from the left, the opportunities were there for City to double their score in the last fifteen minutes as the game opened up (Lewis, who had been a spectator for much of the time, made a couple of good saves during this time as well), but there was to be only one further goal as more good work by Coulson enabled Sainte-Luce to put over another cross which was touched off by Darko to leave Velikonja with a pretty simple chance to complete his hat trick.
On this evidence, Coulson is definitely worth another look at as he was one of about five or six youngsters who really took the eye - John, Oshilaja, Ben Nugent and Ralls all looked accomplished performers at this level (in fact, just as on Saturday, there wasn’t a poor display from any of the fourteen involved last night).