Cardiff City 1
NINETEEN days before United’s opening home game of the new season and less than that for the trip to Chelmsford on August 4, the Yellow Army were treated to a fine evening of football, as an equaliser from Ruairi Keating earned the Gulls a superb draw against Premier League Cardiff City, who had led through a first-half goal from Josh Murphy.
It took just a brief glance at the team sheet to see the quality within Cardiff City’s squad and the atmosphere generated by the Yellow Army and our Premier League visitors combined for a tremendous noise in the early stages.
Alex Bass was very nearly called upon to make his first save on seven minutes but the angled drive from Bobby Reid drifted wide of the far post. A long-range effort from Joe Ralls in the next attack did force the impressive Bass into a comfortable save low to his left.
Mesmerising work from the Cardiff forwards, particularly Reid and the imposing Kenneth Zohore, had George Essuman scrambling the ball clear from his six-yard line. United, to their credit, responded with a decent spell of territorial advantage over the Bluebirds.
Halfway through the first period and the Gulls were denied what looked like a strong penalty claim after excellent approach work had carved an opening for Brett Williams, who was bundled over by Sean Morrison.
Moments after referee Adam Bromley had waved away understandable appeals from United, the visitors were in front, finding space in the right channel for Murphy to fire in off the far post.
A fine move involving Liam Davis and the cultured Ryan Dickson very nearly penetrated the Cardiff defence on the half-hour, but it was soon back to defensive duties and a stinging block from the body of Essuman to repel a thunderbolt from Junior Hoilett.
Reid was one of many Cardiff attacking players displaying an incredible speed of thought, as well as feet, but he did spurn the final opening of an interesting first period, when he volleyed over the bar from a tight angle.
It was all fairly satisfying stuff for United boss Gary Owers and the stage was set for more intrigue after the break.
Excellent work within 10 minutes of the restart had Plainmoor purring with excitement, as substitute Ruairi Keating equalised with a composed finish after a sublime first touch from a ball over the top from goalkeeper, Alex Bass.
Hoilett responded with a dazzling run down the right and pass inside for Zohore, who rounded the exposed Bass but failed to finish from the narrow angle.
Owers then turned to his bench, removing Jamie Reid for Jason Banton to complete the final quarter of what had become a slightly tepid affair but massive praise to the Gulls for taking the sting out of Cardiff’s performance.
With the Gulls visibly growing in confidence, Cardiff were forced into a scruffy clearance and then conceded a free-kick. Asa Hall delivered, but it was just too high for Frenchman Jean-Yves Koue Niate, who was enjoying a fine game in United’s three-man defence.
Less than 10 minutes left on the clock and United were pressing, as a dipping cross from trialist James Roberts forced goalkeeper Neil Etheridge into an awkward parry clear and then Bass was immaculate in his handling of a shot at the other end.
Even with weary legs at the end of 90 tough minutes and in the middle of the pre-season rigours, United kept looking to go forward and a very pleasing display in terms of football and fitness.
The final act of an entertaining night saw Cardiff earn a corner in front of their travelling support and a good chance spurned by Sean Morrison, as he headed over from around 10 yards.
Thanks to the Yellow Army and our visitors from Cardiff for generating a terrific atmosphere. Encouraging stuff for United and we move on to the home game with Bristol City on Tuesday evening.
United: 1 Alex Bass; 2 Ben Wynter, 3 Liam Davis, 4 George Essuman, 8 Asa Hall, 9 Brett Williams, 14 Samir Nabi, 15 Jean-Yves Koue Niate, 16 Ryan Dickson, 17 Kyle Cameron, 19 Jamie Reid Substitutes: 7 Ruairi Keating, 10 Jason Banton, 11 Olaf Koszela, 12 Alfie Edwards, 13 Shaun MacDonald (GK), 18 Jon-Paul Pittman, 20 James Roberts.
Cardiff: 12 Alex Smithies; 2 Lee Peltier, 3 Joe Bennett, 4 Sean Morrison, 5 Bruno Eculele Manga, 8 Joe Ralls, 10 Kenneth Zohore, 11 Josh Murphy, 13 Callum Patterson, 14 Bobby Reid, 33 Junior Hoilett. Substitutes: 1 Neil Etheridge (GK), 6 Jazz Richards, 9 Danny Ward, 16 Matt Connolly, 18 Greg Cunningham, 19 Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, 20 Loic Damour, 22 Sol Bamba, 23 Kadim Harris, 24 Gary Madine.
Referee: Adam Bromley
Attendance: 2,114 (879 away)