Early in the season, clean sheeets at virtually any level for Cardiff City were almost unheard of as we let all manner of soft goals in, but things have changed so much since then. Today I watched my fourth consecutive win and clean sheet for City sides at first team and reserve team levels and, just as in the previous three matches, there was hardly a time during the ninety minutes when the opposition looked like scoring.
The reserves were worth more than a 1-0 victory over Bristol Rovers today, but that's not to say they played that well. To be fair to them, they did have an excuse - the recent dry spell meamt that the Leckwith Stadium pitch was at it's bobbly worst today and both sides stuggled to get the ball down and play as they frequently had to contend with an awkwardly bouncing ball.
I would guess that virtually all of the above average sized crowd were getting their first look at Tony Koskela today and he didn't make an auspicious start as he was robbed of possesion in the first ten seconds as Rovers broke forward for a shot which flew a few yards wide. Koskela's first few touches after that weren't very good either, but he then settled down and showed some good close control and defensive skills although, interestingly whern you consider that he was probably the tallest outfield player, he stayed back for City's corners which suggests heading isn't a strong point of his.
The whole team mirrored Koskela's slow start and it took about a quarter of an hour for them to get going, but once they did, they got well on top and were dominant for the rest of the first half.
Keeper Kevin Miller and striker Jamie Forrester were the experienced players in a youthful Rovers line up and Miller was a busy man in the first half as City began to pen Rovers back. Stuart Fleetwood, looking a lot more lively than he did in last weeks reserve match, forced a save from an angled shot and then hit a lovely volley after a nice move down the right which Miller did well to turn aside. Fleetwood was at it again shortly afterwards when he all but set up a goal for Jamal Easter, but a goal was coming and it arrived after about 25 minutes when Jamal Easter turned sharply in the box and from virtually on the bye line knocked the ball across goal - it didn't look as if it was going in, but Miller was left helpless as a deflection off a defender diverted the ball into the net.
Although the goal had an element of luck about it, was no more than the City deserved at the time and shortly afterwards they should have doubled their lead when a rebound off the referee left Fleetwood clear only for him to blaze high and wide.
Rovers had the last word of the first half with a header not far over from a free kick conceded by Koskela, but I certainly felt at half time that there would be more goals to come as we eased to a comfortable win.
However, that never happened as City gave a carless display for much of the second period with individual mistakes and sloppy passing meaning that they never built up the same momentum that they had before the break. Having said that even though the all round loose play spread to our defence as well, there were hardly any real alarms for them as the Rovers attack was kept fairly comfortably in check.
Just as it seemed that the game was going to drift quietly to a tame finish, City livened up for the last quarter of an hour as Fleetwood resumed what was almost a private competition with Miller as he shot just over and then forced another save from the keeper. With Curtis McDonald also firing a shot narrowly wide and a dubious offside decision robbing Anthony Taylor of a great opportunity, City finished their second reserve game against a Bristol team within a week deserved winners (just as they had done against the wurzels) but both performances tended to mirror the first teams on Saturday in that they got the job done but not much more than that.
As Anthony Taylor and Jamie Rewbury were largely imune from the carlessness that took over the team in the second half, I would nominate them as the best players today. Taylor, as he usually does, consistently beat his marker with dribbling skill and evidence of his dominance came when his marker, an early sustitute who had replaced the original left back when he got what looked like a bad injury, was replaced himself because I am pretty sure that the Rovers bench could see him picking up a second yellow card as he committed a number of fouls against Taylor. As for Jamie Rewbury, he confirmed the impression he gave last week that he is an assured defender who seems to be able make time for himself on the ball (I suspect the real test for him will come when he comes up against a better standard of striker than he has faced in his last two matches - will he look so comfortable and unhurried then?).
Finally a word about the two youngsters in the team. I'm not sure whether Jamal Easter will be credited with the goal, but where he impressed me today was the way he would drop a little deeper and thread clever little passes on to his colleagues - it could perhaps be that his best position may be in the "hole" between midfield and strikers? Curtis McDonald wasn't quite as impressive as he was last week for me, but for such a young player, he shows a great awareness of his defensive responsibilities and he also produced flashes of skill and runs past opponents which, especially on that pitch, suggested that he is a talented player who we may well be hearing much more about.