Cardiff City Under-23s continued their tremendous unbeaten start to the season after goals from Chanka Zimba and Isaak Davies helped them to yet another comfortable 2-0 win over Millwall.
The Bluebirds dominated the first half and had more than their fair share of opportunities.
The best opportunity fell to Zimba and he obliged with a cool finish after 21 minutes. After some lovely build-up play, the ball found itself at the feet of Kieron Evans, who deployed a defence-splitting pass in behind the Lions’ defence before Zimba latched on to it and buried it into the corner at the first time of asking.
It wasn’t long before Zimba poked the ball into the net again, however his poacher-like finish following Eli King’s smart header in the box was adjudged offside by the official.
Cardiff then tested the palms of Millwall’s keeper with a number of shots from range, with midfield duo King and Keenan Patten both trying their luck before Evans’ whipped free-kick aimed at the near post caused a bit of trouble.
After the break, Millwall came out swinging. They changed their shape and Cardiff struggled to contain the visitors.
But City weathered the storm, quite literally at times, and hit Millwall against the run of play to take the sting out of the Lions’ tail.
Zimba turned provider this time during Cardiff’s breakaway goal midway through the second half when the striker slotted his own pinpoint ball through the defence to Isaak Davies, who took one touch before slotting expertly passed that onrushing goalkeeper.
That is now five wins from their opening five games for the young Bluebirds and they have climbed to the top of the table in emphatic and aesthetically-pleasing fashion.
Long may that continue.
Cardiff City XI : Ratcliffe; Jones, Denham, Connolly; D’Almeida (T. Davies 76), Patten, King (Leahy 85), Semenyo; I. Davies (Ashford 85), Zimba, Evans.
Subs : Luthra, Bakare.
Here are some talking points from the clash at Leckwith…
Striker’s sizzling form continues
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Chanka Zimba looked like a first-team striker in waiting against Millwall on Monday afternoon.
He was lively, strong and smart in his forward play and was a constant thorn in the side of the Millwall defence.
The variety in his play was particularly eye-catching. Zimba was strong and powerful in the air and tenacious in closing down the Lions defenders when on the ball.
But it is in attack where he flourishes. His first-half goal was marksman-like.
Kieron Evans slid through an inch-perfect pass through the defence and Zimba, without hesitation, lashed a low, left-footed shot into the bottom corner. It was confident, assured, everything you would expect, really, from a young man who netted his fifth goal in his last four outings.
Minutes later he was in poacher mode, turning home after Eli King headed smartly to the back post, only to be adjudged offside by the official on the far side.
And he looked a shoo-in for his second when Isaak Davies did brilliantly to chase down a Millwall defender, only for the young Bluebirds forward to choose the wrong option of pulling the ball back to Keenan Patten instead of squaring a pass across the box to the wide-open Zimba.
But fortunately for Davies, Zimba’s decision-making was far better than his for the second Cardiff goal.
Zimba showed great awareness during City’s breakaway chance to slot the ball through for Davies and the young Welshman did not need a second invitation to slot home the second of the match.
Tricky winger delights
It’s been really encouraging to see Kieron Evans get his chance in the first team in recent weeks and he continued his fine form against Millwall on Monday.
The Wales youth international really is a player who gets you up off your seat when he has possession of the ball, looking to jink his way past his opposite number or carve open the defence with a killer pass.
That is exactly what he did for Zimba, of course, for his goal early on in the match.
Another impressive quirk is that he is completely ambipedal, meaning he is equally adept with both feet. He can stand over a free-kick on the right or left and look just as comfortable either side.
One right-footed effort was particularly impressive in the first half, when he gave the keeper the eyes as if to send in a cross, only to whip an effort towards his near post to send the Lions No.1 scrambling to keep it out.
He also played a part in the second, too, feeding Zimba before he returned the favour for Davies. Another fruitful outing for the young winger.
Engine room’s smooth partnership
The more this midfield pairing of Eli King and Keenan Patten play together the more encouraging it looks from a Cardiff City perspective.
They can be a little difficult to distinguish, given they are both a similar height and have the same light-coloured blond tinge to their hair, but they are both also forward-looking and progressive in the way they play.
King has had to wait for his chance, with Sam Bowen having been the mainstay in the middle of the park before his graduation to the first team, but he is taking it with both hands now.
Both King and Patten showcased their industry in retrieving the ball but it was heartening to see just how attack-minded they were when in possession, something which, in truth, has been in short supply in that area of the pitch for the first team.
Neither are shy in terms of shooting from range, too, and trouble the Lions keeper on more than one occasion.
Patten in particular looked impressive, as he has done for a number of games now. He looks to have grown in confidence this season, maybe shouldering the burden of leadership in the middle of the park after Bowen’s first-team promotion, and that is a very positive sign for Cardiff.
They were made to work in the second half, too, when Millwall gained momentum and control, but showed doggedness to to try and stymie the visitors’ attack when possible.
Solid outings from both again.
Denham and Connolly impress again
Cardiff’s defence had very little to do in the first half, but when they were called upon after the break they were flawless.
While the entire back five could lay claim to positive performances, Oliver Denham and James Connolly were particularly excellent in defending Cardiff’s goal.
Both have caught the eye a number of times this season and Monday was no exception.
Denham offers a calm, composed presence at the heart of the back three. There is an air of confidence and assuredness about the former Manchester United man which means he rarely looks rushed or flustered.
Connolly, who has been handed the captain’s armband despite only joining the club this summer, also enjoyed another commanding display in the left centre-back position.
Connolly made a number of telling interceptions and key tackles as the Lions turned up the heat in the second half, but the most eye-catching aspect of his game was how he used the ball.
The under-23s captain played the ball out excellently from the back and allowed Cardiff some time for respite rather than immediately conceding possession after winning the ball back.
Those two were rocks all afternoon.
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