I hadn’t been watching and playing the game too long when I came to the conclusion that a strong wind was the worst weather conditions to play football in, so I didn’t need the further proof of this that today’s Under 18’s game at Leckwith offered. Before going any further, I should qualify what I say by pointing out that I did miss the first one or two minutes of the match so there is a chance that there was an early goal scored, but, judging by the eighty odd minutes I saw, this was very, very unlikely – until City launched a late rally in the last ten minutes which saw them come close on two or three occasions, there had barely any attempts on goal, let alone on target.
With so little goalmouth action and a whistle happy ref who didn’t seem to have heard of the advantage rule, it really was miserable fare, but both sets of players at least had excuses aplenty for the basic errors that punctuated the game because a virtual gale blowing diagonally across the exposed pitch (the game was played on the pitch which the Under 16’s normally play on, so there wasn’t even the protection that the stand at the Athletics stadium might have offered) made good football virtually impossible.
For the first quarter of an hour or so, there was also pouring rain for the teams, as well as the thirty or so spectators, to cope with – with this rain blowing straight into my face, it was barely possible to focus on what was happening on the pitch. Not that there was much to grab the attention mind, Theo Wharton fired a shot not too far wide early on and the wurzels keeper’s poor kicking got the visitors worried at times, but nothing ever came of his miskicks – that was about it as far as City, with the wind at their backs, were concerned as an attacking force in the first half.
As the rain eased off, so the wurzels began to take something of a hold on proceedings as they pressed forward mainly through winning most of the 50/50 and second ball challenges, but this superiority only ever looked likely to produce a goal when their number eight hit a rising shot from the edge of the penalty area that drew an excellent save from David Richards as he turned the ball over the bar. For all but those last ten minutes, this was easily the closest I came to seeing a goal – there were one or two other first half goal attempts for Richards to deal with, but these were from routine efforts that didn’t trouble him.
The second half offered little to capture the attention either except that the wurzels continued with their strange tactic of keeping two or three men back for their corners and attacking free kicks even though City had everyone back defending – quite what they were expecting City to do on the break when they had barely mustered a shot so far, Lord only knows! Not that the visitors did too much attacking after the break mind, because, apart from a couple of occasions when Richards had to dive at forwards feet and a late shot which flew high and wide, the second period offered further evidence that it was probably harder to play with the gale than it was against it.
For all of their greater share of the ball and their slight territorial advantage, City only had a scuffed effort by Gethyn Hill which was easily dealt with by the keeper to show for their second half efforts until their strong finish which meant that they were probably the ones out of two evenly matched teams that deserved to win. In those final minutes, substitute Rhys James almost won the game as his shot was tipped over by the keeper, while another of City’s sub’s also saw an effort saved, as did Tommy O’Sullivan, but it was James again who missed the chance of the match with two minutes left when his close range effort flew just wide after O’Sullivan had done well to put over a low cross.
This was tough on James who certainly livened City’s attacking play up when he came on, but, mainly, it was a day for defenders. The awful conditions ensured that every player on the pitch was guilty of being made to look a mug at times, but left back Kane Owen and centre half Bradley Williams (I think it was him at least) did as well as anyone with the latter just getting my vote as City man of the match.