A special day for those of us who have been left frustrated and annoyed as Cardiff City virtually ignored their Academy for too many years. At the end of their 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest today, Sky’s cameras showed the big traveling support being acknowledged by the City squad and, perhaps uniquely since its formation in 2004, there were five among their number who could be called Academy products.
Joel Bagan, capped by the Republic of Ireland’s Under 21 team in the week, is the one of the quintet for whom the claim Cardiff City Academy graduate may be disputed somewhat as he arrived at the club as a sixteen year old I believe having been at Southampton, who have such an excellent record when it comes to youth development.
However, Bagan had two seasons as a regular in our under 18 team and then, towards the end of that time, broke into the Developmentside. The four others have been Cardiff through and through in their progression through the ranks. Mark Harris, the most experienced of them, started the game up front alongside James Collins and was one of our few truly effective players in a first half in which it looked like Forest, a team we couldn’t stop beating in the latter years of the 2010s, would continue a change in fortunes in matches between the clubs that had seen them win three of the last four encounters 1-0.
It was a big day for Sam Bowen who came in for a first league start when Leandro Bacuna suffered an injury in the pre match warm up and there was also a first team debut for Keiron Evans who replaced Harris for the last ten minutes or so.
However, it was Rubin Colwill, at City since he was nine, who stole the show by scoring the first two goals of his career to turn the game on its head as City completely dominated a second period which could have seen them at least double the number of goals they scored.
There is something which might even be called a revolution going on at City currently, whereby a combination of Covid, the ending of parachute payments and the consequences of us not having enough players that other clubs were willing to pay fees for have come home to roost. Certainly, in the short term at the very least, we’re not going to be paying millions of pounds for players, but that’s not to say that there will be five Academy graduates playing for the first team every week mind.
Today’s selection was forced upon Mick McCarthy to an extent as, besides, Bacuna’s late withdrawal, Joe Ralls and Ryan Giles were missing through injury and illness respectively and further changes from the Bristol City match saw Tom Sang and Keiffer Moore, fresh from his isolation period that saw him absent from all three recent Wales games, left out as Perry Ng, Will Vaulks, Harris and Collins all started.
With games against an in form Coventry and two of the four teams nearly all of the pundits were saying the three promoted sides would come from (Sheffield United and Fulham were the other two alongside Bournemouth and West Brom who are our next two opponents as Cardiff City Stadium) to come before the end of the month, City really do not want an injury crisis any time soon.
However, at least the low number of new summer arrivals is being made up for to an extent in that we have a nucleus of young talent that our manager appears happy to use in league football now – effectively, we have three or four other “new signings” to go with Giles, Collins, Wintle (very impressive in Blackpool’s shock 1-0 win over Fulham apparently) and McGuiness.
As for the game, Forest’s win over us in the FA Cup last season halted our run of consecutive City Ground wins at six, but, just going by the Championship table, the chances of a seventh straight league victory there seemed high. After all, despite the very disappointing loss to Bristol City prior to the international break, two wins, two draws and a defeat represents a pretty good start for us, whereas Forest’s draw at Derby in their last match represented the only point they had gained in five attempts.
By and large, those six wins in Nottingham I mentioned had come in similar ways, City would go a couple of goals up with them tending to come in the first half. This often turned the second half into a bit of a holding operation which might see Forest net what would turn out to be a consolation goal.
Therefore, to find themselves 1-0 down at the interval suggested a change to the norm was taking place and it could also be added that. the game was past the point where City had tended to do their scoring in the fixture since 2015.
The first period was of no great quality, but, with Bagan almost becoming another teenager to score his first City goal as his early header from a deflected Ng cross bounced off the top of the crossbar, Harris having his follow up effort cleared off the line and Collins forcing home keeper Brice Samba into a diving save with a quickly hit fifteen yard effort after one of City’s better moves of the opening forty five minutes, they had a claim that a fairer score at the break would have been 1-1..
Bowen had a pretty subdued debut – there was nothing outstanding from him, but the only real mistake he made was when some unusually poor control from him saw led to Lyle Taylor firing over from what was Forest’s only real goal effort before they took the lead on twenty three minutes as City conceded the first time they were put under any real pressure.
Forest’s new left back Max Lowe raced down the left and in doing so showed his pace and Sean Morrison’s lack of same, Lowe got to the bye line and knocked a good ball back into the path of the advancing Lewis Grabban whose ten yard shot got a slight deflection off Curtis Nelson to end any slim hope Dillon Phillips had of keeping the ball out.
In his after match interview, Mick McCarthy said he was not very happy with his team’s first forty five minutes and told them he’d give them ten minutes to improve before he would change things if that didn’t happen. With his side still looking sluggish, our manager was as good as his word as Collins and Bowen made way for Moore and Colwill and, straight away, the game changed completely.
Within a minute City were level – McCarthy made a point of praising Vaulks for taking a quick throw in, rather than going for yet another long one (Forest had been dealing with them pretty well all afternoon), as City stepped up the urgency.. When the man Wales no longer want it seems got the ball back from Ng, he aimed a good cross to the far post where Moore’s header deflected into the path of Colwill off Flint and, although the teenager’s left foot shot from six yards wasn’t struck cleanly, it had enough on it to find its way into the net.
It’s not too much an exaggeration to say that City were rampant for about ten minutes after that as Harris’ volley, arising from Samba dropping a free kick under pressure from Morrison, flew a yard over when he probably should have scored, Samba turned a Flint header away and Moore rattled the upright with a fifteen yard header from one of a number of free kicks a pretty desperate Forest side were being forced to give away.
The siege on the home goal was only lifted when referee Dean Whitestone and his near side linesman missed an obvious deflection of a Vaulks shot and awarded a goal kick, rather than a corner.
For a short while after this reprieve, Forest were able to have a few attacks of their own, but they were only the prelude for a City goal which means that not only have we started scoring goals with our feet, we’ve scored a very good one as well – the stat about us only scoring league goals in the second half of games remains though.
Pack, Ng, Colwill and Moore combined with the big striker’s clever flicked pass offering more evidence of what he can give sides who use him as more than just a target for long balls. Unlike, with Wales last week where he was too often the player who received the ball with his back to goal, Colwill had space to run into this time and, with confidence buoyed after his first effort, he showed great technique to get away a left foot shot from twenty yards that arrowed low into the corner of the net with Samba thinking he perhaps should have done better with it having got his hand to the shot.
Forest’s response to falling behind was what you’d expect from a team bereft of confidence – Phillips was given saves to make when he tipped James Garner’s free kick over the bar, had to punch a Ryan Yates shot away and dive on one by Joe Lolley, but long range, usually inaccurate, shooting was all they had to offer most of the time as City held on comfortably in the final minutes to win just like they’ve done so many times at this venue in the twenty first century.
Depending which one out of Sky and the BBC you choose to believe, City had 51 or 47 per cent possession and had twenty or twenty two goal attempts (a season’s best whichever of those two were right) to Forest’s eight – this was a deserved win with what I would say was a better than average performance from us, but, most excitingly, it was the influence of youth that held the promise of more of the sort of football we saw with the winning goal.
There was no doubt that the story was Colwill and his young past Academy side team mates, but a word as well for Marlon Pack who I think is playing as well as he has done at any time since signing for us just over two years ago. Pack has the physique to fit in with what our image is, but, when he is playing well, it’s wrong to dismiss us as just a physical, direct, set piece orientated team. Pack Is a footballer first and foremost and with the same applying to most of the youngsters now breaking into the first team squad, his importance to the team is growing – not least because he comes across as a bit of a leader who, I think, could become a good coach or manager.
It was very much mixed fortunes for our age group sides this week – James Crole scored an early euualiser for a very young under 18s side which then shipped six unanswered goals at Wigan, while the under 23s kept up their one hundred per cent record by beating Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Friday with Kieron Evans scoring two high quality goals, while Chanka Zimba maintained his good start to the campaign by netting again as we eased to a 3-0 win.
It’s the time of year again when I ask readers of Mauve and Yellow Army to make a contribution towards its running costs. Before I go into detail about this, I should, once again, offer my sincere thanks to all of you who have helped ensure the future of the blog over the past three years through a mixture of monthly payments via Patreon, monthly Standing Orders into my bank account and once a year payments via bank transfer, PayPal, cheque and cash.
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