An excellent all round performance by the Cardiff Dragons saw them push a strong Birmingham Blaze side all the way in their away fixture in the midlands on Easter Sunday. The game ended in a narrow 2-1 defeat for the visitors, and showed how much the Dragons have progressed in the few months since their last game against Blaze in the GFSN Cup. After some recent matches on Astroturf due to inclement weather, it was nice to get back to playing on grass on a dry and mild afternoon.
The match began cagily with both defences on top and chances were at a premium with a couple of speculative efforts going wide for Birmingham and some good moves down the wings from the Dragons, but neither keeper was really tested. After a goalless first 20 minutes, Birmingham took the lead when their forward seized on a short backpass by Harvey, rounding the keeper to finish coolly past the man on the line. This setback did not deter the Dragons, who won a succession of corners and free kicks in dangerous positions, following good work by Aris da Silva and Chris Crimmins in midfield, and some excellent through balls from the back by all the defence to Anthony Read and Lucy Lockwood down the wings.
Despite this pressure, the Dragons could not apply the final touch from some dangerous crosses as the Birmingham defence held firm. The hosts then forced a few corners of their own but these were largely dealt with by the Dragons defence of Owen, Murray, Searle and Cousins – all played solidly as a unit throughout the half. Birmingham did create one chance with a header a few yards wide, but the first half ended with Blaze in a slender 1-0 lead.
The second half saw Blaze introduce some substitutes and create a good early chance but, although the shot was struck well, it flew narrowly wide of the near post. With the second period only a few minutes old, Cardiff Dragons suffered a blow when their goalkeeper, Dave Amos, was forced off through injury. Anthony Read took over the gloves and Matt Latham replaced him on the right of midfield.
Despite this blow the Dragons continued to win good possession, with Matt Jones having a shot from the edge of the area saved, and a low cross causing danger in the box. With Jones and Graeme Monk working tirelessly up front and some vocal support from the sidelines, the Dragons were still well in the game, and with 20 minutes remaining forced a deserved equiliser following the award of a free kick a few yards outside the area. Left-back Jason Cousins stepped up to take the kick and beat the wall with a well struck shot past the keeper into the bottom left hand corner of the net. It was now anyones game and another good throughball to Matt Jones ended in a fierce shot just wide of the corner of the goal.
Birmingham were still a danger however, with the pace and strength of their substitutes causing problems down both wings, but the Dragons defence dealt with this threat well remaining strong in the challenge and restricting them to a couple of half chances. Birmingham however kept breaking at pace and were rewarded when a ball into the area was not dealt with and their centre forward scored from a well placed glancing header which went in off the far post.
The Dragons three remaining substitutes – Jordan Wall, Jerry Bull and Dave Kelly – were introduced for the final quarter of an hour and together with Matthew Latham all contributed well. Apart from a couple of long range shots from Muzz Harvey and Lucas Owen, the Dragons could not muster any clear cut chances despite gaining a lot of territory in their search for an equiliser and the game ended 2-1 to Blaze. Thanks go to both teams for their committment to such a well contested game and to the referee on the day. Thanks also to Blaze for their hospitality throughout the day and the fantastic food put on afterwards!
Dragons: AMOS, OWEN, HARVEY, SEARLE, COUSINS, LOCKWOOD, CRIMMINS, DA SILVA, READ, MONK, JONES
Subs (all used): LATHAM, WALL, BULL, KELLY