U18s Reach Youth Cup Semi-Finals After Rip-Roaring Victory Over 10-Man Blades
Friday, 30th Apr 2021 20:19
Town’s U18s progressed to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals - in which they will host Liverpool - after beating 10-man Sheffield United 3-2 after extra-time in a rip-roaring quarter-final tie at Portman Road. Nico Valentine gave the Blues the lead just after half-time but the Blades hit back via Will Osula and Andre Brookes to go in front before Elkan Baggott grabbed a leveller for Town deep into injury time and Harvey Cullinan netted an own goal two minutes from the end of extra-time to see the Blues through.
The game, which had been delayed for 10 minutes, kicked off in persistent heavy rain after both sides, officials and staff had taken a knee in support of Black Lives Matter.
Proceedings were halted in only the third minute when Town keeper Antoni Bort suffered a blow to the head as he punched away a corner from the right.
The Polish Lowestoft-raised second-year scholar was treated on the pitch for 17 minutes before departing on the stretcher cart with his head in a brace and wearing an oxygen mask. Lewis Ridd replaced him in goal.
Blades defender Cullinan was also treated for a cut to the eye sustained in the same incident and continued with a bandage round his head and a numberless shirt.
Town, watched by first-team manager Paul Cook, created the game’s first real chance in the 25th minute when Liam Gibbs was found in space on the left of the box. The midfielder cut inside to schoolboy Valentine, who made his U23s debut earlier in the week, but the ball was stabbed away to the edge of the box from where Edwin Agbaje struck a shot which flew back across goal and wide.
The Blues continued to press and soon after Cameron Humphreys and Alfie Cutbush both saw strikes from inside the area blocked.
However, as the game passed the half-hour mark the Blades began to threaten and on 32 only Cameron Stewart’s excellent block prevented Osula from opening the scoring when he was found in space to the right only eight yards out.
The visitors subsequently won a couple of corners with Town not looking entirely comfortable with balls played into the box.
In the 37th minute Valentine curled an under-hit shot through to Sheffield United keeper Callum Hiddleston.
Due to the injury to Bort, 16 minutes were added on at the end of the half with the Blues still on top and looking the more likely scorers, Gerard Buabo having made a strong run into the area before being dispossessed just as he was looking to shoot.
Gibbs struck a shot wide which caught a defender on its way and from the corner Albie Armin, the scorer of the winner in the last round at Middlesbrough, was just prevented from reaching the ball inside the six-yard box by a defender.
A couple of minutes later, Armin went within a couple of inches of giving the Blues the lead when he hooked the ball onto the bar with Hiddleston beaten after a half-cleared corner had been looped back into the area. Moments later, the ball was crossed back into the area from the right and Buabo flicked a header just past the far post.
Agbaje was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Beau Anderson, then Stewart joined him in the book, also for a foul.
Cutbush hit a shot from distance which Hiddleston saved down to his right with the Blues continuing to look for the game’s opening goal in the remaining minutes of one of Portman Road’s longest ever halves.
Town had been the better side in an entertaining encounter with Armin going closest to breaking the deadlock, however, the Blades might have had the lead earlier in the period when Stewart blocked from Osula and the Blues had continued to look not entirely comfortable when defending the visitors’ corners.
Town finally got the goal they had deserved in the opening minute of the second half. Gibbs was sent away in space down the left and cut back to Valentine who diverted the ball past Hiddleston and into the net from eight yards.
The Blues should have scored their second goal in the 52nd minute when a free-kick from the right - Cullinan having been shown a yellow card for fouling Buabo - was hooked back into the box but Stewart guided his header the wrong side of the post.
Town were to rue the miss with the Blades levelling in the 57th minute. Oluwafemi Seriki crossed from the right and Osula slammed into the roof of the net from just inside the six-yard box.
The Blades threatened again on 59, Francis Maguire eventually shooting high and wide from the right of the box.
Two minutes later, the visitors had Hiddleston and the woodwork to thank for staying on terms in a remarkable passage of play.
First Buabo hit the bar with a header, then the keeper clawed Valentine’s close-range rebound away to Agbaje, whose effort was also saved before the ball ran to Gibbs on the edge of the area, from where he shot over.
On 63 Humphreys curled a free-kick from just outside the area to the right only just wide of Hiddleston’s far post.
Five minutes later, Baggott was booked for apparently catching Daniel Jebbison with an arm as the pair tussled for the ball, although the Indonesia full international squad call-up vehemently protested his innocence.
In the 72nd minute Town swapped Cutbush for Tawanda Chirewa ahead of an eight-minute stoppage after Beau Anderson clattered into the advertising hoarding in a clash with Gibbs which saw the Blues midfielder pick up a yellow card. After treatment on the pitch, the stretcher was used for a second time as Anderson was transported round the pitch and down the tunnel.
Almost immediately after the game restarted, the Blades took the lead out of nothing. Brookes hit a shot from the edge of the box into the ground which beat Ridd to his right.
Town immediately swapped Buabo for Ola Bello, scorer of a hat-trick in the 5-0 away win at Chelmsford earlier in the competition.
Maguire hit an 87th-minute free-kick into Ridd’s midriff with the visitors in control of the game having gone in front, then two minutes later, Bello flicked a cross from the right to Hiddleston in the Blades goal.
In the final scheduled minute, a corner from the left was poorly cleared to Valentine but the earlier scorer screwed his volley well wide.
Moments later, the fourth official held up a board indicating 14 additional minutes taking injury time over the course of the game to a full half an hour, almost certainly a Portman Road record.
Town began to put the Blades under pressure and Chirewa flicked a free-kick from the left towards goal but too close to Hiddleston. The keeper failed to hold on but the Blades eventually and not entirely convincingly were able to clear.
The Blues were continuing to prod and probe and eventually they found their leveller. Humphreys floated a corner from the right to the far post and Baggott powered a header into the roof of the net.
Town went looking to a winner in the final minutes of added-on time, Chirewa curling a free-kick from the edge of the box which Hiddleston claimed at the second attempt as Town players ran in sniffing the chance of a rebound, but neither side could find a third goal and the tie went to extra-time.
Neither side created an opportunity in the first half of extra-time until the 10th minute when Humphreys crossed low from the left and Luther Williams turned the ball back across the edge of his six-yard area. A mis-kick would have ended up in his own net.
In the 103rd minute, the Blades were reduced to 10 men. Hassan Ayari lunged into Humphreys getting nowhere near the ball. Referee Robert Massey-Ellis showed a straight red card and there were no complaints from the visitors.
Town went looking for their third of the evening in the remaining minutes but the scoreline remained 2-2 at half-time in extra-time.
The Blues continued to take the game to the visitors as the second period of extra-time got under way.
However, on 109, the Blades should have scored when a corner from the right reached the unmarked Cullinan breaking into the six-yard box but somehow the defender sent the ball in the wrong direction and away from goal with the visiting bench already cheering a goal.
Soon after, the impressive Valentine made way for Jesse Nwabueze, then in the 114th minute Humphreys hit a low shot which Hiddleston pushed away and again was fortunate it didn’t fan for a Town player.
Three minutes later, Gibbs should have won it for Town. Chirewa sent Bello away on the left of the box from where the striker cut back to Gibbs, who took a touch but sent his shot wide.
The Sheffield United goal was by now under siege and in the 118th minute they finally grabbed the winner. Humphreys got round the back on the right and sent over a low cross which Cullinan slammed into the roof of his own net.
Town should have made it four in the 102th minute when Humphreys crossed from the left and the ball reached Bello but somehow he shot over.
In two minutes of injury time Ridd was forced to make his first serious save of extra-time, tipping over an effort from distance which looked set to drop just under the bar.
Soon after, after Blades keeper had gone up for a corner, the Blues broke quickly and Chirewa was played in on goal but Hiddleston had got back into his ground to block.
There was little time for anything else and the referee’s whistle signalled wild celebrations from the Blues after an extraordinary cup tie which swung this way and that, had everything, was three hours long including injury time and breaks and which they deserved to win.
Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-1 in their quarter-final and the Blues will now host the Merseysiders at Portman Road in a semi-final which must be played before Saturday 15th May with the final having to be played prior to Saturday 29th May.
U18s: Town: Bort (Ridd 19), Agbaje, Alexander, Stewart, Baggott, Armin, Valentine (Nwabueze 109), Cutbush (Chirewa 72), Buabo (Bello 84), Gibbs, Humphreys. Unused: Bradshaw, Osbourne, Manly.
Sheffield United: Hiddleston, Seriki, Anderson (Angell 80), Arblaster (c) (Smith 102), Cullinan, L Williams, Ayari, Maguire, Jebbison (Hackford 90), Osula (Marsh 105), Brookes. Unused: Hampshaw, T Williams, Lankshear.
Photo: Matchday Images
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