Alexander: It's Been an Amazing Run
Tuesday, 11th May 2021 17:10
Town youth skipper Fraser Alexander will lead his team into battle against Liverpool at Portman Road tomorrow at the semi-final stage of the FA Youth Cup as the Class of ’21 take another giant step towards emulating their 1973, 1975 and 2005 predecessors by capturing the coveted trophy.
The 18-year-old defensive midfielder, who earned the captain’s armband by virtue of a players’ poll, has been with the club since the age of eight and it will be the biggest occasion of his career so far — and one that is being screened live by the BT Sport cameras.
The youngsters have really flourished in the competition this season, reaching the last four with wins over Southend, Chelmsford, Fulham, Swindon and Middlesbrough before, in the last round, succeeding against all the odds against Sheffield United in an extraordinary game.
Alexander, who hails from the picturesque Hertfordshire village of Manuden, around four miles north of Bishop’s Stortford, said: “It has been an amazing run and the quarter-final win over Sheffield United was incredible — it was the game that had everything.”
Town suffered an injury blow after only two minutes when goalkeeper Antoni Bort sustained a blow to the head as he punched clear from a corner. After 17 minutes of treatment he was taken off in a stretcher cart to be replaced by Lewis Ridd, but the drama was far from over.
Nico Valentine broke the deadlock soon after the restart, only for the young Blades to hit back twice and go ahead before defender Elkan Baggott netted in stoppage time to take the tie into extra time, in which Harvey Cullinan’s own goal two minutes from the end gave Town victory.
Alexander added: “The loss of Antoni was a setback we had to deal with, switching back on just two minutes after the game started. Then going 1-0 up and thinking how we could secure a second goal to win the game and stop them from scoring.
“Then we found ourselves 2-1 down, which was a huge disappointment for us, with not many minutes to go. We knew we had to find something within ourselves as a team to try to get back in the game and we managed to score a late equaliser to take the game into extra time.
“That’s something that many of us had never experienced before so for young players to play an extra half hour, getting towards the end of the tough season that we’ve had, was really difficult for us.
“There were some tired legs out there and in the changing rooms afterwards. For us to grab the winner in extra time, in the quarter-final of the FA Youth Cup, was unbelievable for us and a great experience.
“Because it’s the most recent, the game against Sheffield United is probably the one that sticks in the mind the most, but if you track back to the Fulham game in round three we were 2-0 down after half an hour or so before coming back to win the game 3-2 in the last minute.
“At Middlesbrough in round five it was 0-0 for virtually the whole game. You don’t want to lose the game but equally you still want to win it, so it was a difficult game in terms of how many men do you push forward. The game plan, how do you change that around as you still want to win it?
“We scored in the last few minutes again and in the quarter-final against Sheffield United we scored a stoppage-time equaliser and then the winner in extra time. That topped off some crazy performances that we have had in the run so far.”
Apart from being a big part of his team’s FA Cup run this season, back in November last year Alexander was also awarded a personal accolade by League Football Education in the shape of a place in The 11, which acknowledges the football and academic progress of U18 players on apprenticeships at EFL clubs and is designed to assess other factors, including involvement in community or charity-based initiatives.
Alexander added: “That was something that was linked to outstanding work off the pitch as well as on it.
"As U18s we still have to go through an education programme. Most of us don’t particularly enjoy that because we just want to focus on our football but we know it’s very important and it’s got to be done.
“My mindset has always been that I want to push myself off the pitch just as much as I do on the pitch, so doing the BTEC and the maths degree is tough and lots of other boys do A-levels and BTECs as well. They have figured out a way to combine the education and the football.
“It has been really tough for us this year because it has been learning by Zoom, but of course it was a real honour to be named in The 11 alongside some very, very good players and people.”
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