U23s Beaten in Play-Off Semi-Final By Birmingham
Tuesday, 30th Apr 2019 21:26
First-half goals from Corey O’Keeffe and Adan George and a last-gasp effort from Kyle Hurst saw Birmingham City to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Town’s U23s at Portman Road and into a Professional Development League Two play-off final against Leeds United. The Blues U23s fell behind to O’Keeffe’s headed rebound in the third minute and never really looked like taking anything from the game once George had struck the second on 25 with Hurst adding his goal in injury time. The margin of victory would have been more convincing but for a series of impressive second-half saves from Harry Wright (pictured).
The start of the game, which was scheduled to start at 7pm, was delayed until 7.30pm due to the visitors’ late arrival, the Orwell Bridge having been closed for much of the afternoon leading to traffic gridlock around town.
The Town side, watched by manager Paul Lambert and his coaching staff, included Josh Emmanuel and Idris El Mizouni as well as two trialists, central defender Ethan Patterson, currently with Aston Villa, and wideman Deese Kasinga-Madia, who is with Newcastle. The duo have been with the Blues for a number of weeks have have been involved in previous U23s games.
Town found themselves behind in only the third minute via the first serious attack of the game. Keeper Wright clawed away Caolan Boyd-Munce’s shot from the left of the box but O’Keeffe was on hand to nod home the rebound.
The visitors continued to look the more threatening side, Odin Bailey scuffing a low shot from the edge of the area wide after the Blues had given the ball away in their own half.
But Town were inches away from levelling with their first shot of the game in the 11th minute when Brett McGavin curled a freekick only just wide.
The Blues went close again in the 14th minute, El Mizouni flicking on a McGavin corner from the right and keeper Zach Jeacock somehow managing to instinctively palm it away from goal. A minute later, Bailey shot well over for the Midlanders.
Birmingham doubled their lead in the 25th minute. After the Blues had failed to clear their lines on a number of occasions, George hit a shot on the turn from eight yards out which struck a defender and beat Wright to his right.
The visitors kept up the pressure and on the half hour mark Remeao Hutton struck a shot from the right of the box which deflected wide off a Town defender when it looked on its way into the net.
O’Keeffe should have made it 3-0 in the 33rd minute but hooked the ball over the cross bar as well as the advancing Wright went sent through on goal by Boyd-Munce.
Town, without the likes of injured pair Ben Morris and Ben Folami, had struggled to create much of note up front but on 39 El Mizouni hit a powerful shot having cut in from the right but which was just too high.
However, it was still mainly Birmingham from an attacking perspective and two minutes later Bailey shot wide from the edge of the box.
In injury time, a swift Blues break involving El Mizouni and Emmanuel ended with the Tunisia U23 international looping a shot well over from the edge of the box. Ryan Stirk was subsequently booked for a foul on El Mizouni as he broke forward.
Moments later, referee Lee Brennan ended the half with the visitors deservedly going in two in front.
Birmingham had been in control from the start against an under par Blues side and might well have been even further in front had they taken their chances, while Town had come closest via McGavin’s early freekick and El Mizouni’s flick and later strikes from the edge of the box.
Town introduced forward Kai Brown, normally a regular starter, at half-time for England U18 international Dylan Crowe, who had played wide on the right in the first period.
Three minutes after the restart the pacy Bailey broke away behind the Town backline down the right but failed to find a team-mate with his lay-back.
Zak Brown was yellow-carded for a foul on 55, then following the resultant corner Wright did well to claw away Geraldo Bajrami’s header which was bouncing towards the top corner from a Bailey cross from the left.
On 59 Colin Oppong, who joined the academy from Northern Irish side Cliftonville in January, replaced trialist Kasinga-Madia, who had had a quiet evening.
Wright was forced to make another impressive save in the 61st minute after a corner was poorly cleared to O’Keeffe, the keeper doing well to get across to his right to palm the ball past the post.
A third Birmingham goal had been looking more likely than a first for Town but in the 66th minute a neatly-worked move carved out space for El Mizouni on the 18-yard line but the midfielder scraped a weak shot through to Jeacock.
With the visitors increasingly happy to sit back on the lead, the Blues created another opportunity in the 70th minute but Emmanuel shot across the face from a tight angle on the right having been found by El Mizouni’s deep cross.
Within a minute Hurst curled a shot over at the other end, then Boyd-Munce sent another effort wide from further out.
Wright again prevented Birmingham from adding to their lead in the 73rd minute when he blocked Stirk’s well-struck shot.
Moments later, Bajrami was booked for a foul on Emmanuel on the right and in the aftermath of the freekick - after Bailey Clements had replaced Pat Webber at left-back and the visitors had made two changes - the Blues almost pulled a goal back.
El Mizouni crossed from the right and trialist Patterson found himself unmarked but headed over from six yards out.
Wright, Town’s man of the match by a distance, pulled off another sharp save on 78 when he tipped Josh Andrews’s shot over after the sub had been found in space in the box.
Burke was booked for a foul on Kai Brown as the game moved into its final 10 minutes with a Blues comeback looking unlikely.
El Mizouni curled an effort into Jeacock’s hands in the 86th minute, then at the other end 15-year-old Jude Bellingham, on as a sub, twisted and turned his way into the area but was eventually crowded out. The ball found its way back to the England U16 international but his effort on the turn was deflected behind.
In injury time, a mix-up between Patterson and Wright almost let in Andrews but the keeper managed to get a hand to his effort from a tight angle to turn the ball past the post.
In the 95th minute, Hurst made a strong run from halfway before hitting a shot which struck the sliding Corrie Ndaba and looped over Wright and into the net. Seconds later the whistle ended the game.
The Blues never really looked like getting back into the game in the second half, the damage having been done before the break.
While disappointing not to reach the play-off final, that shouldn’t detract from a very successful season for the U23s who won the Professional Development League Two South by seven points while also developing players such as El Mizouni and Jack Lankester who progressed into the first team and who will become mainstays of next season’s League One campaign.
U23s: Wright, Emmanuel, Webber (Clements 74), Patterson, Ndaba (c), McGavin, Dobra, El Mizouni, Z Brown, Crowe (K Brown 46), Kasinga-Madia (Oppong 59). Unused: Egan, Scott.
Birmingham City: Jeacock, Hutton, Burke, Stirk, Bajrami, Redmond, O’Keefe, Boyd-Munce, George (Bellingham 74), Bailey (Andrews 74), Hurst. Unused: Baker, Bradley-Hurst, Forrest.
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