Cardiff City 2, Leeds United 1
Craig Bellamy’s Bluebirds are on course for a trophy double. Cardiff City’s youth team won the Professional Development Under-18 League South – and now they are through to the play-off final.
Former Liverpool, Manchester City and Cardiff striker Bellamy is not currently in charge of the team, but he played a major role in the development of their young players.
He voluntarily stepped down from his role as Cardiff City Under-18 coach following ‘xenophobia’ allegations made by the father of a teenage Bluebirds’ youth player.
Matthew Bloxham has stepped up to the head coach role during Bellamy’s absence.
Cardiff’s chief executive, Ken Choo, and chairman Mehment Dalman have been investigating, while Bellamy has said: “I temporarily removed myself from my coaching position in order to co-operate fully with the club’s inquiry.
“Obviously, I am saddened both by the allegations and the manner in which they were made and I categorically refute them.
“I fully expect to return to my coaching role.”
Bellamy would have been proud of his Bluebirds players if he had been at Cardiff City Stadium for a match which attracted Wales youth manager Paul Bodin to watch.
Keenan Patten and Dan Griffiths led City to victory against Leeds United and they now play Sheffield Wednesday in the final at Hillsborough on a date to be decided.
Ben Margetson had an outstanding match at the heart of defence, while centre-back partner Joel Bagan made couple of crucial challenges when Leeds threatened.
Captain Sam Bowen and Patten were cool, composed and highly effective in central midfield, while Wrexham-born striker Dan Griffiths played a key role in attack.
“We managed the game really well,” said Bluebirds coach Matthew Bloxham. “During the first half we showed clear attacking energy and intent to go at Leeds.
“We led 2-0 at half-time and that allowed us the platform to let Leeds come onto us.
“I could not single out any individual. The entire team showed their worth.
“A lot of the players have been at Cardiff since they were seven-years-old and it was great to have a platform like this.
“We have played Sheffield Wednesday this season and they are a tough team, but we go there with confidence.”
Cardiff coach Matthew Bloxham was forced into a late change when goalkeeper George Ratcliffe was ruled out just before kick-off by an injury and Warren Burwood took over.
Cardiff won 2-0 at Leeds during the regular season and the home team played a passing game, managing the game with confidence and style.
Leeds had a big chance after 17 minutes when Theo Hudson ran clear and steered his shot past Burwood. The low shot bounced off the far post and it looked an easy finish for Jack Jenkins, but Bagan produced a beautifully timed challenge to block the shot.
Cardiff’s first goal, scored after 22 minutes was a beauty. Patten took possession on the edge of the penalty area, burst between two defenders and slipped effortlessly past another Leeds player before finishing in clinical style with a shot into the roof of the net.
Griffiths, a former Liverpool trainee who never stops running and holds the ball up well, netted his 28th goal of the season five minutes before half-time.
Sion Spence ran down the left, beat his defender and went for goal with a low shot which hit the far post. Griffiths was in quickly on the rebound and scored from close range.
Burwood made a good save from Ollie Casey just before the break, while Leeds pulled a goal back with 20 minutes left when Norwegian striker Niklas Haugland scored.
Leeds pressed hard and even sent goalkeeper Josh Rae up for a corner, but Cardiff kept their composure and saw out the game to earn their place in the final.
Cardiff City: Warren Burwood, Connor Davies, Ryan Kavanagh, Ben Margetson, Joel Bagan, Keenan Patten, Ntazana Mayembe (Isaak Davies 72), Sam Bowen (capt), Dan Griffiths, Kieron Evans, Sion Spence (Sam Parsons 78). Subs not used: Rubin Colwill, Siyabonga Ligendza, Harry Pinchard.
Leeds United: Josh Rae, Dane Burlace (Max McMillan 55), Joe Stanley, Lucas Odunston, Charlie Cresswell (capt), Ollie Casey, Theo Hudson, Nohan Kenney, Niklas Haugland, Jack Jenkins, Nial Huggins. Subs not used: Harry Christy, Max Rigby, Cole Gibbon, Jamie Thornton.
Referee: Mitchell Terry.
North division champions Wednesday won their match against Ipswich Town, who finished runners-up to Cardiff in the South, won their semi-final 1-0 thanks to a Conor Grant penalty.
Sheffield Wednesday: Josh Render, Josh Dawodu, Michael Ellery, Liam Waldock, Declan Thompson, Isaac Rice (capt), Lewis Farmer (Eyad Hammoud), Liam Shaw, Charles Hagan, Connor Grant (L’varn Brandy), Elliott Vasalo (Charlie Reaney). Subs not used: Luke Jackson, Toby Kenyon.