Youth Cup success for U18's

12 December 2013 10:41
Cardiff 1 - 0 Blackburn.

City’s recent record in the FA Youth Cup has not been very impressive, so any win in the competition is to be welcomed – even moreso when there is so much negativity about at the moment regarding the first team.

Tuesday night’s 1-0 win over Blackburn in a Third Round tie was as close as the scoreline indicates with the visitors being justified in heading home with the thought that they didn’t get a great deal of luck foremost in their minds. That’s not to denigrate City’s achievement at all, it’s just that it really was one of those tightly contested matches which could have gone either way – City would have been able to bemoan their luck as well if it had been Blackburn who had nicked the game.

I use the word “achievement” because when you consider the amount of experience in both teams, City’s youngsters can take credit for what they managed last night. Recent practice at the club has been to field the strongest team possible for these Youth Cup matches and so I went to the game expecting to see Under 21 team regulars such as Tommy O’Sullivan,  Josh Yorwerth, Kane Owen, Rhys Healey and even perhaps Declan John featuring. Now, it might be that one or two of those are a little too old now to qualify for this year’s tournament, but the point is that City could have put out a side which looked stronger on paper than the one they used – instead, it was a team made up entirely of youngsters who have played nearly all of their football this season in Under 18 league matches.

By comparison, Blackburn included seven players with Under 21 Development team experience and the same team had beaten Newcastle 4-1 in their last game. However, at no time did this supposed advantage to the visitors become apparent in a match which built to a very exciting climax after a first hour or so pretty devoid of goalmouth action.

In fact, much of the first half was something like watching some recent first team away games with the visiting side having most of the possession, but never really suggesting that they had a goal in them. Credit should go to the City back four and centrebacks Curtis Watkins and Tom James in particular for their part in making Blackburn look so toothless during the closest thing they had to a period of domination in  the game, but City were competing well all over the pitch and, just as on Saturday, it was the home side who were fashioning what chances there were despite having less of the ball than their opponents.

A James header from a Tom Burridge free kick forced visiting keeper Raya into a fairly routine save and then a neat build up down the right involving Tyler Roche ended up with full back Dylan Rees putting over a cross which was nodded just over by Yora Enzam, but the best opportunity fell to centre forward Eli Phipps when Blackburn made a mess of defending a dead ball situation and the ball dropped to him no more than six yards out. Phipps didn’t seem to get the best of contacts on his shot, but, even so, Raya still did very well to palm the effort around the post.

City’s match winner Yora Enzam.*

The lack of goals in the first half wasn’t just down to poor attacking play, City, in particular defended well in winning tackles close to their penalty area as the visitors tried to build some momentum and the third quarter of the match saw the central midfield trio of Ben Watkins, Burridge and captain Macauley Southam winning those tackles further up the pitch to put their team on the front foot for the first time in the game. During this period of supremacy, City had three opportunities to get what was looking to be the all important first goal and they all fell to the same player, winger Tyler Roche.

He did little wrong with the first one as he found space to get his head on another Burridge free kick, but the effort was blocked by a defender and then his pace took him clear of the last defender as he moved on to a fine pass (apologies to whoever played what was one of the balls of the game, but I didn’t see who it was) only to be foiled by Raya. It was another good save by the keeper, but Roche probably should have done better and maybe this miss impacted on his confidence a little when he didn’t connect properly when another fine pass, this time by Southam, presented him with what was a tougher opportunity.

Although extra time was looking increasingly likely, there seemed little doubt at this stage that if a side was going to win it in the ninety minutes, it was going to be Cardiff. However, it was then that Blackburn suddenly found their shooting boots. Actually, that’s not strictly true with the first of what were six or seven opportunities for the visitors in the last quarter – for the first time, they managed to get through the City defence and it looked like a formality for Harris to score only for the ball to bounce off his body and on to the post.

In the minutes which followed, Harris showed he, in fact, had a good shot on him as two well struck efforts were kept out by City’s impressive keeper Joe Massaro who again had to plunge to his right to keep out another effort by the visitors. The desire of both sides to get the game settled within the ninety minutes became apparent as it became more and more open and the action swung to the other end as another City player had a trio of chances within a short period.

This time the opportunities fell to Yora Enzam who had been having a pretty frustrating time of it on the left wing. That feeling must have increased when his shot hit the under side of the crossbar and bounced out with twelve minutes left. Once again, it was the sort of chance which should really have been taken, but Enzam made no mistake a minute or so later when two substitutes combined to give him another chance – Abdi Noor found Tom Pearson whose low cross aimed at Noor eventually found it’s way to Enzam who took a touch before firing low into the corner of the net from twelve yards just as I was telling my mate that this was the fifth City game I’d seen in the flesh or on my computer in ten days and I’d still not seen us score!

Within another couple of minutes Enzam, who nearly went off with cramp with a quarter of an hour left, had a one on one with Raya but his attempted lob went wrong and the keeper made an easy catch. Despite having opportunities to get the goal which would kill the game as Blackburn pushed forward, City were unable to take them and so spent the closing stages defending, sometimes with desperation, their narrow lead. Massaro again showed himself to be a fine “line” keeper with another sharp save while also defying his relative lack of inches, to make a very good catch under intense pressure.

However, the keeper was beaten by a stabbed Blackburn effort following a corner – it was hard to see whether the ball had hit the post or been scrambled off the line by a defender, but the main thing was it wasn’t in our net! There was one more scare for City – I’d mentioned Massaro’s lack of inches and it showed when he had to contend with a horrible, high, sliced cross deep into added time, he just wasn’t tall enough to deal with it and was grateful to see the ball glance off the crossbar and out.

Seconds later, the final whistle blew and City were into the hat for the Fourth Round – well done to all the players who played their part in what was, in the end, an enjoyable game.

* picture courtesy of

Last Friday the Development side were comprehensively beatn by Chelsea at CCS.

You get the feeling that if the new Development League Cup competition had been regarded as a high priority tournament for City, their Second Round home tie with Chelsea, which resulted in a 4-0 defeat, would not have been arranged for a night when all of the first team squad are up in London preparing for the visit to Crystal Palace.

The Under 21′s top their league this season and they always tend to take full advantage of the rule which allows sides to field three over age outfield players. Matt Connolly, John Brayford, Craig Noone and Jordon Mutch are amongst the senior players who have turned out for the Development team in league matches this season, but none of them were involved last night – neither was another regular starter, Declan John.

With Deji Oshilaja and Kadeem Harris, possibly the Under 21 sides best players so far this season, both away on loan along with other possible starters Joe Mason and Rudy Gestede, it was probably the weakest looking side they had put out so far this campaign which did battle with Chelsea. Mind you, whether a side containing four or five of the players listed above would have been able to get the better of the visitors is certainly debatable (I doubt it if they would if I’m being honest).

Chelsea also have an imminent first team match and it’s hard to think of a club which loans out more of their younger players than them. so it’s an indication of the huge amount of talent at Stamford Bridge that they were able to put out a team which won so comfortably last night – it was also a side which contained only one player (captain Nathan Ake) who had appeared for them at Premier League level. However, getting on an old hobby horse of mine, I wonder how many of this Chelsea team (all of whom would walk into, and improve, our Development team on last night’s evidence) will get even close to their first team when the club persists in spending hundreds of millions most years bringing in new, established, players – Chelsea would be a team to avoid if I was ever in a position to have an influence on which club a very talented youngster should choose to start his career with.

Going back to City, it goes to show how bad things were for them that Etien Velikonja actually got a start! I’ve heard the rumours about him being someone who Malky Mackay didn’t want at the club because he didn’t think he was good enough and believe there may well be some basis of truth in them, but my over riding feeling is one of sympathy for a player whose promising career at club and international level has completely stalled since signing for Cardiff.

Yes, I’m sure the nice big pay cheque makes life in Cardiff that bit more bearable for him, but could Velikonja have imagined that, eighteen months into his City contract, he would be being substituted (along with another “forgotten man” Filip Kiss) with fifteen minutes left in an Under 21 fixture while first year pros were kept on in front of him? Velikonja is a player who has attracted an awful lot of attention for someone who has featured so rarely at first team level and, whatever your views on him as a player, he is an innocent party in the whole situation who really should be playing first team football somewhere at this stage of his career – it’s obviously not going to be at Cardiff, but I hope he gets a move to a club where he is valued more soon.

Any watching scout would have been impressed with one or two nice pieces of build up play and a free kick which didn’t miss by much from the Slovenian international, but, in all honesty, he and Kiss were struggling after pretty promising starts by the time they were taken off. In fact, much the same could be said about the whole City team – last night was definitely a game of two halves.

Etien Velikonja – maybe January will see an end to his Cardiff nightmare?

With Rhys Healey showing great determination in making light of the height and weight disadvantage he had against the Chelsea centrebacks, it was City who made the brighter start and it was he who was fouled to gain the free kick which Velikonja narrowly missed from. Chelsea had kept the ball for a minute or so from the kick off, but had been forced into errors by an eager City team after that and had not caused the home defence any problems prior to them being given a very dubious penalty – in fact it was a shocking decision!

I thought referee Simon Knapp had a good game overall, but, for some reason, he blew for a foul when Theo Wharton brought off an excellently timed tackle to dispossess Chelsea’s Brown – from where I was sat, I could see that Wharton clearly won the ball  and if proof were needed of this, you only had to look at the direction the ball went in after contact had been made. Baker comfortably scored from the spot to give Chelsea a lead they didn’t deserve and that was also my feeling at half time when the score still stood at 1-0. City spent most of the first forty five minutes in possession and on the front foot, but a Bradley Williams header from a Kane Owen cross which keeper Blackman denied with a fine save was all that they really come up with when it came to providing a threat to the Chelsea goal.

City’s cause wasn’t helped by the fact that Kiss, O’Sullivan, Wharton and Williams are all central midfielders and it was down to full backs Coulson and Owen to provide any penetration down the flanks – this concentration of players in central areas was a factor in City living with Chelsea in the first half, but the visitors came out with a completely different attitude after the break as they began to play in a more direct manner which helped to move play away from areas where City had numbers.

Chelsea soon got  a reward for their more positive approach – again, it was as a fortunate goal as Owen’s goal line clearance bounced off keeper Ben Wilson (a new name to me – I assume Simon Moore was with the first team squad?) and into the net. At the time I also thought Chelsea were lucky in the build up to the goal because rebounds off City defenders kept on falling to their players, but that tends to happen to teams who are willing to get numbers into the opposition’s penalty area – put it this way, I can’t see City being similarly “lucky” in open play this afternoon!

Wilson made a good save at his near post shortly afterwards, but Chelsea were looking dangerous every time they attacked now and Kiwomya cashed in on some poor defending in the middle of City’s defence to make it 3-0 just before the hour mark. About ten minutes later, Chelsea substitute Boga burst through a weak challenge and beat Wilson with an angled shot from the edge of the penalty area to complete the scoring.

Although you couldn’t help feeling that there were further goals there for the visitors if they wanted them, they seemed happy enough with what they had as they comfortably played out the last quarter. All City could offer in reply was a header which Healey might have done better with from a Coulson cross, but there were one or two encouraging performances despite the heavy defeat.

I’m told that Malky Mackay rates Tommy O’Sullivan highly and his control and awareness in congested areas certainly impressed, along with his perceptive passing. Just like his team, most of O’Sullivan’s best work came in the first half and the same could be said of centre back Josh Yowerth who I thought had a very good opening forty five minutes – invariably it was Yorwerth got his head to crosses and he also came up with more than his fair share of tackles and blocks. Yorwerth performed the “traditional” centreback duties well, but also impressed with the quality and range of his passing – after spending time out of action last season and not always featuring at this level this time around, it was a reminder that we do have a very promising Welsh centreback on our hands.

Source: Cardiff City Online