Cian Ashford celebrates scoring for Cardiff City

City U21 & U18 | 2023/24 Season in Review

It’s been a season of great progress for the Bluebirds’ Academy, gaining experience in the Professional Development League, as well as seeing talents show their ability at First Team level. 

The Academy also moved into a new base in Llanrumney this campaign, providing excellent facilities to aid development for the future.

After a positive campaign, we take a look back at the 2023/24 season.

Darren Purse
PDL experience

Our U21 side finished the Professional Development League campaign in ninth, with players gaining invaluable experience in the competition. 

The young Bluebirds finished the season strongly, picking up nine points from the final six fixtures, including a fantastic performance in a 5-1 win over Peterborough United.

Reflecting on the league campaign, U21 head coach Darren Purse said: “In terms of results, I want to win football matches and I hate losing, but it’s always about the bigger picture, which is the pathway for players. 

“I look back on the last game against Hull, it was a massive learning experience for players like Joseff Edwards, who is a First Year Scholar, Jac Thomas, who is a First Year Scholar, Dylan Lawlor, who is a Second Year Scholar, Dakarai Mafico, who is a First Year Scholar and Josh Beecher, who is a Second Year Scholar. 

“This season has been a massive learning experience for those players and they will absolutely be better players next season because of that.”

As for the U18s, Tom Hutton’s side ended the campaign in third place, recording 18 wins from 29 matches. 

One of the highlights of the season was a performance full of character when hosting Swansea City. Trailing by two goals, a fine hat-trick from Trey George saw the young Bluebirds turn the game on its head and claim a 3-2 victory. 

U18 head coach Hutton added: “We reflect on the year really positively. We’re really proud of the progress that the Academy has made this season. Ultimately, we’re defined by the players that we produce for the First Team and particularly recently, to see lads who have been at the Club from a young age step over that white line and make a positive contribution, it’s what we all want.

“From an U18s point of view, there’s been real progress. We’ve done considerably well in the league considering how young our squad is. We’ve challenged our individuals effectively and have seen the rewards of that.”

Tom Hutton
Pushing age groups

The Academy’s strategy has given the platform for City’s prospects to gain a wealth of experience of playing at a higher age group. 

With much of the U21 squad that began the campaign heading out on loan to have a taste of senior football, the U18s squad have stepped up and have regularly played U21 football this term. 

Defenders Dylan Lawlor, 18, and Luey Giles, 17, have particularly impressed and have both been a part of the U21 squad all season, whilst being eligible at U18 level. 

With some U18s players representing the Club at U21 level, there has also been a platform for the U16s squad to step up into the U18s. 

They have also impressed, with Mannie Barton, 16, notably netting four goals in the PDL against Millwall. 

Having challenged players to play at a higher age group, the squads end the campaign with a wealth of experience under the belt, which will stand them in great stead going forward.

Commenting on the strategy, Purse said: “It has been really positive. If you look at where we are with the U21s, at the start of the season, we wanted Tom Davies to go out on loan to gain experience. Rather than recruit a new left-back, we saw Luey [Giles] as someone with potential. We have challenged Luey, as a Second Year Scholar, to play 30 games for the U21s. 

“He’s come through with flying colours. They’re the little strategic things that we do and the decisions that we make. It’s the part of the job that I really enjoy, which is making sure that the players have a pathway.”

With the U18s players impressing at U21 level, Hutton added: “We’re always really keen on trying to push players up to an older age group when we feel that they’re ready. 

“We’ve exposed a lot of U18s to U21s football, whilst still being competitive in the league, which has been a huge positive for us.”

Cian Ashford in action for Cardiff City
First Team debuts

In recent months, City’s young prospects have made an impression at First Team level. 

Having made his Sky Bet Championship debut in our victory at Birmingham City, Cian Ashford scored the winning goal in his first league start against Southampton. 

In the same match, Raheem Conte and Giles both impressed on their First Team debuts. 

In our final home match of the season against Middlesbrough, Joel Colwill was introduced in the second half to feature in the Sky Bet Championship for the first time.

With the players’ performances highlighting the positive work of the Academy, Purse said: “It’s always about the bigger picture, which is the First Team debuts that we’ve had and the loan experience that we’ve gained. I think it has been fantastic. We always do what is best for our individual players and we’re seeing the results of that.”

Hutton continued: “A lot of people have played their part in the players’ development leading to their debuts. There is a lot of investment and hard work, not only from the staff, but from the players and they deserve a lot of credit, as do their parents. 

“Being part of an Academy is a huge commitment. It comes with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I think I speak for everyone when I say that the boys who have made their debuts and have contributed to the First Team, they’re positive representations of that.”