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The Arsenal signing who enraged McCarthy, Wolves starlet strikes up exciting partnership and the ‘really frustrated’ Cardiff City striker

Cardiff City made hard work of it, but they eventually came away from their pre-season clash with Forest Green Rovers with a 2-1 victory.

The Bluebirds went in front thanks to a goal straight after the second-half restart from James Collins, before Jamille Matt levelled with a header from a corner.

But Gavin Whyte popped up at the back post to poke home the winner just five minutes from time and earned City the spoils.

But while it was far from a complete performance, there were certainly some positives to take away from the clash at The New Lawn.

Here, Bluebirds correspondent Glen Williams takes a closer look…

READ MORE: Cardiff City made to work for pre-season win over Forest Green Rovers

The raw but impressive Mark McGuinness

Mark McGuinness was a player I was keen to see when I arrived at The New Lawn.

I liked the look of his physique, had heard good things about him from Ipswich and the club were quietly delighted to have captured the Arsenal youngster so early on in the transfer window.

Suffice to say, he did not start the game as he would have liked. He flew into nasty tackle on Jamille Matt, which presented the hosts with a very good early chance through Ebou Adams, while Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor continued to scream at him for dropping too deep in the line. “Macca!” they shouted in unison, “Push up! Push up!”

There were teething problems, as there always are when a player joins a new team, especially when that player comes from the sort of football schooling taught at Arsenal’s London Colney training base.

One example of the above came when McGuinness tried to clip a cross-field ball, across the back-line and fizzed about six feet off the ground, to Ciaron Brown over on the left flank.

The pass was off target and flew into the stands for a Forest Green throw-in, putting Cardiff under pressure once again. An enraged Mick McCarthy grabbed his open water bottle and gestured to throw it along the touchline, but thought better of it.

Anyone who watched McCarthy’s Cardiff last season knows that is not the pass to play. The manager likes his centre backs to hit long and into the channels. But McGuinness will learn that.

After that, he was really impressive. He is a big old defender, too, at 6ft 4in, and looked up for a scrap.

In the second half he looked far more at ease and actually made a few telling interventions, cutting out one attack with a last-ditch tackle to deny a certain goalscoring opportunity.

Seconds later he threw himself in the way of another shot and deflected one effort over the bar, prompting the coaching staff to applaud again.

The 20-year-old is raw, of that there is no doubt, he will need to improve if he is to oust one of the established back three, but there is a lot of potential there.

He is as comfortable on the ball as any of the other centre backs, if not more so, and is imposing and athletic. While Aden Flint, Sean Morrison and Curtis Nelson will doubtless be first choice, Ciaron Brown will have his work cut out to keep hold of that standby spot.

READ MORE: Cardiff City’s pre-season absentees explained

The Giles and Bagan partnership

Arguably the two best players on the pitch at The New Lawn were Joel Bagan and Ryan Giles and it all seemed to click when they aligned together on that left-hand side.

Bagan was so composed in possession, it was great to see him back after that shoulder operation just a few short months ago.

He kept the ball better than anyone, played the simple passes well, showed for his team-mates and defended assuredly in that wing-back role, pushing out of defence with speed and quelling any danger at source.

Giles took some time to get into the game, but when he did he looked just about City’s most potent attacking threat.

He swung in a beautiful cross for James Collins in the first half, which the striker narrowly missed. He did the same thing again just after the break, after Bagan played him in, but this time Collins tapped home.

That left-hand side looked to be a problem area of City a few weeks ago, but after the last two pre-season displays it appears to be in good hands with Bagan and Giles in situ.

The Cardiff bench was in front of the press box for that game against Forest Green and I lost count of the number of times I heard Will Vaulks shouting, “Good, Joel!” after a particularly competent piece of play from the City academy product.

Giles could comfortably play in a left wing role, if Mick McCarthy opts for a front three, as was evidenced at Forest Green on Tuesday night. He looked really dangerous going forward and can whip in beautiful crosses while running at pace. Kieffer Moore will doubtless benefit from that.

And he will also provide back-up if Bagan is missing at left wing-back. But the two of them on the pitch together brought a lovely balance and is something we will likely see more of this season.

And a word, too, for 18-year-old left back Tom Davies, who got another run out. McCarthy said he was “excellent” against Cambridge last Saturday and he slotted in seamlessly for the last few minutes on Tuesday night.

Suddenly, that left-hand side is in rude health and has turned from a potential weakness into an exciting position of strength.

Returning players feel like new signings

Minutes into the legs are what these pre-season games are all about and that is what is needed for the likes of Lee Tomlin and Isaac Vassell, both of whom have had their injury strife in recent years.

Tomlin was brought on for the final 20 minutes and did what he does best, roaming around in that No.10 hole and keeping hold of the ball, which was rare for most of the game.

He will be like a new signing for Cardiff this season and he will have a big role to play, one would think.

He has something that no other player in this squad has and that’s the X-factor to unpick defences and score goals from nothing.

In fact, his link-up play with Isaac Vassell led to City’s winner. Tomlin spun a ball around the corner for Vassell to latch onto before the striker squared it across the face of goal for Whyte’s tap-in.

READ MORE: Mick McCarthy issues transfer update on Gavin Whyte

Tomlin needs a striker like Vassell to feed off. Tomlin linked so well with Danny Ward and Vassell has similar traits, running off the last man and looking for those diagonal runs.

The returning striker will be looking to take his chance with both hands in pre-season, but there is still some rust there and competition is as fierce as it’s ever been.

Elsewhere, “Isaac, are you going to run or what?!” were the words of an exasperated Mick McCarthy late on when City were searching for a winner and the manager wanted more from him.

But he showed just what he could do with his assist and he got into some dangerous positions on more than one occasion.

There are question marks over his fitness but he could be a real asset if he can stave off injury, of that there is no doubt. And Vassell is just as frustrated as anyone.

“Isaac Vassell, he’s getting really frustrated with himself because he’s not up to speed, fitness-wise,” McCarthy said after the match.

“He’s not played for two years! It’s going to be that way.”

Those two, fully fit, are big assets to this squad. Keeping them injury-free is important to ensuring City have a different dimension to their forward line and it will be a narrative to keep a close eye on moving forward.

Dillon Phillips snatches No.1 spot

Well, if there was any doubt over who would be named first-choice keeper on the first day of the season, Dillon Phillips has seemingly put that debate to bed.

Make no mistake, Forest Green were in the ascendancy for much of the match and Phillips made some utterly stunning saves to keep the Bluebirds in the tie.

The former Charlton man was worked early by a Jamille Matt header, but moved quickly to gather at the far post. Next he had to run out and smother Kane Wilson, whose meandering run had taken him to within yards of the goal, but Phillips snuffed out the danger.

Late on, Phillips was forced to bring out the acrobatics. Jake Young smacked a sweetly-struck, Gareth Bale-esque free-kick from 25 yards and the keeper had to move quickly and get down low to push it away.

Next, as Forest Green chased a winner, Josh March whipped one bound for the top corner, but a flying Phillips was equal to it again.

The keeper’s distribution was cause for some frustration for McCarthy and his assistant Terry Connor, but in terms of shot stopping, Phillips was tremendous at The New Lawn.

Cardiff have two very good goalkeepers in place at the minute, but Alex Smithies might just have to settle for a spot on the bench against Barnsley.

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