There was an interesting thread started on the CCMB messageboard I use this morning (by a Welsh Reading fan of all people!) about this season’s Championship – apparently, the average goals per game is down from something like 2.6 last season to 1.9 something this time around.
I need to qualify what I say about the competition this time around for now, because I’ve watched far less of it than I would normally have done in late October for a variety of reasons, but I wasn’t too surprised at that stat because the games I have seen this season have tended to be very cagey affairs, especially during the first forty five minutes, and, to be honest, they been pretty short of entertainment.
So, by the standards of 20/21 at least, tonight’s 1-1 draw between City and AFC Bournemouth at Cardiff City Stadium represented something of a goal fest and it’s also good to report that it was probably the best Championship game of football I’ve seen so far this season.
Much of the credit for that should go the way of the visitors – Neil Harris has said when asked about our poor recent home results that opposing sides come here these days prepared to sit back and wait for their chance, but Bournemouth had an attacking outlook right from the start of the game and, in truth, probably were just about worth all three points.
However, a depleted and squad rotated City side were in the game throughout and they would have taken heart from picking up a first home point of the season against a good team while showing some promising signs as far as their attacking play was concerned – it was definitely the best I’ve seen us look going forward this term.
The injury which forced Greg Cunningham off early on at Preston on Sunday turned out to be a hamstring strain which will keep him out for a few weeks according to our manager (it meant that Greg was able to provide a very good co commentary of the game on the club’s website though) and, with Joe Bennett still not considered fit enough for a return to first team action, there was a gaping hole at left back. This would probably have been filled by Leandro Bacuna if it wasn’t for the fact that he was needed at right back to replace Jordi Osei-Tutu who was not risked after he went off early at Preston with what was described as a tight hamstring.
Therefore, we were treated to the very rare sight of a former City Academy player starting in a league game for the senior team as Joel Bagan was given the chance to build on a promising performance against Reading in the FA Cup last season and an encouraging loan spell at Notts County which saw him play at Wembley in a Play Off Final against Harrogate.
I’ll come back to Bagan shortly, but, given we were missing three specialist full backs, it was something of a surprise to see both Joe Ralls and Keiffer Moore dropped to the bench as Will Vaulks and Robert Glatzel were given a chance to impress.
I can only assume that, having served his one match ban for his red card at Blackburn, Lee Tomlin must have an injury issue as well because he was not included in our eighteen as Gavin Whyte was given one of the substitute berths.
I mentioned earlier that tonight’s game was the best I’d seen in the Championship this season, but I certainly wasn’t thinking that at half time. While not quite the cagey opening halves that have been the norm in 20/21, it certainly had the same feel as the Sheffield Wednesday and Reading defeats as we struggled to make an impression.
City did cause a sometimes sloppy Bournemouth side a few early problems with an effective high pressing game which saw Sheyi Ojo playing a full part in what I thought was his best showing for us so far.
The visitors looked somewhat uncomfortable in the first fifteen minutes or so as Glatzel kept a couple of members of the three man Bournemouth central defence honest, but they gradually got their bearings and took control to the extent that, while not exactly bombarding the City goal, I’d had that feeling that a goal was coming for a while when they did score.
Back in 13/14 in our first ever Premier League season, we conceded a lot of goals to balls played inside our full backs to release a runner who would then slide a cross in which was invariably converted from close range by an onrushing forward.
Bournemouth’s goal ten minutes before half time was a reminder of what was happening seven seasons ago as the influential Jefferson Lerma slid a pass through the left hand side of City’s defence. Bagan therefore has to accept some responsibility for what happened, but Junior Hoilett had let Jack Stacey go and when the wing back got to the bye line, his low cross picked out Dominic Solanke who netted from the edge of the six yard box.
Bagan’s inexperience did show at times, but, overall, it was a good first league game for the youngster we picked up a couple of seasons ago from Southampton. Indeed, on yet another occasion where our passing compared somewhat unfavourably with our opponents, the Scottish youth international took the eye with some thoughtful and composed contributions while also generally defending effectively.
City had to survive a rocky start to the second half when a second Bournemouth goal would have, surely, meant curtains for them. They also needed some luck when Solanke found himself in a similar type of position to where he had been in scoring at the opposite end of the pitch – this time Smithies denied him by brilliantly diverting the shot on to the crossbar and out.
City reacted well to this escape – Harry Wilson, who impressed with his ability to find pockets of space for himself, fired in a free kick from twenty yards that keeper Asmir Begovic had to tip onto and over the bar to follow up on a first half effort just wide from the edge of the penalty area which represented our only really close effort in the first forty five minutes..
Begovic then had to push a Vaulks header over and Curtis Nelson missed a presentable chance when he headed wide from an unmarked position beyond the far post.
City were having their best spell of the match and their high pressing game bore fruit when Ojo and Hoilett forced an error from the Bournemouth rearguard and the latter was able to burst clear of Stacey and cross towards the edge of the penalty area where an onrushing Wilson showed good technique to send his low twenty yard shot wide of the keeper and into the net to record a goal on his first start for his new club.
With still almost half an hour to play, I felt the game was there for the winning by City, but, in truth, they could never really recapture the intensity they had shown in the ten minutes or so before their equalizer and on both of the occasions when a decisive goal nearly came in the remainder of the match, it was the visitors who were denied – first as a free kick by Junior Stanislas crashed back off the crossbar with Smithies completely beaten and then an unmarked Solanke headed about a foot wide from a position where he really should have netted.
Moore, Ralls and Josh Murphy were all introduced, but the promising fluency that the front four had shown when we were able to get the ball to them had gone now and, although some of Bournemouth’s defending had a last ditch look to it throughout the ninety minutes really – only three efforts on target by City rather told a story in terms of an attacking end product.
What was promising though was that, on this evidence, Wilson is potentially that player who can provide ten plus goals in a season if he stays fit – he made what was certainly no sitter look easy for his goal and his ability to find space just in front of the visiting defence made him the sort of target which even our passing was bound to connect with at times.
I should also mention that a very young Under 23 side were beaten 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the week which means that their run of consecutive defeats to begin the season now stretches to four and that it is seven losses from eight matches for our Development and Academy sides which is a shade ironic on the day that a teenager finally comes up through the ranks to start a Championship match for the club!