By Mark Wyatt
It’s been a difficult season for Cardiff City and it’s only been 3 months. Seemingly fighting a relegation battle as early as September, a managerial sacking and new faces arriving and leaving the club all the time. Neil Warnock has registered two good results at the time of writing, especially the derby win against Bristol City in his debut at the helm. Yet Cardiff fans expect a lot more over the next few months in order to mount a charge towards promotion and that will take something special to achieve given their current league standing.
That something special may just come from the players right under their very noses, sitting in their development squad. The U23 team have, like their senior side, had a mixed bag of results this season. Starting with 4 straight wins, they have now failed to win in 6 yet there are some diamonds sitting in the rough. Gair Rhydd went to their 0-0 draw with Charlton last week to see what all the fuss was about.
On a bright Monday afternoon Cardiff’s youngsters played in the shadow of the City stadium, what a better way to inspire them to break into the first team. Kevin Nicholson, the manager, was one of the first coaches in Great Britain to obtain his FA Elite qualifications and his team looked well drilled against Charlton. There were a lot of chances for the Bluebirds, with Marco Weymans netting a disallowed goal early on and Semi Ajayi’s bullet header should have put them ahead had it not been for the Charlton keeper’s heroics. Ajayi impressed throughout for Cardiff, the towering centre-back managed to keep Charlton at bay for the full ninety and showed intelligent movement whenever they had the ball.
Ajayi’s professional career has seen him play across England by the age of twenty-two and he joined the Bluebirds from the academy of Arsenal in 2015. Captain Tom James made his mark too, with a close effort in the second-half. His rise in the development team has granted great praise but, like his teammates, he is still waiting to get a chance in the first-team after making his debut in 2013 but not playing since. Finishing all even was a good result for the team though, Charlton have impressed this season going unbeaten since August.
We spoke to Charlton full-back Aaron Barnes who is also looking to step up to his first team in the near future. His view on Cardiff was full of praise and Barnes explained that to play against them was tough. “They were a high pressing, direct and aggressive team, who make it difficult to play against, they are a strong outfit, especially at home. They always produce good youth teams.” He is certainly right, Cardiff have produced some great young players that have elevated into the squad in recent years. Kadeem Harris is currently enjoying his time in the first-team and one can’t help but expect some his former team-mates to join him soon.
It may not have been an enthralling encounter but the young Bluebirds showed enough determination and passion to convince anyone that Neil Warnock should seriously consider his youngsters as viable options in the Championship. But will the 67 year old take the gamble, especially with his early recruitment?