Danny Ballard scored the decisive goal as our under-18s advanced to the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup courtesy of a 3-2 win at Middlesbrough on Friday.
In an open and entertaining game, early goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Tyreece John-Jules - the matchwinner at Liverpool in the previous round - put us firmly in command.
To their credit, the hosts battled their way back into the game. Stephen Wearne had a shot cleared off the line and Kian Spence’s fierce effort was well saved by Joao Virginia before Tyrone O’Neill converted Stephen Walker’s pull-back just before half-time.
Just three minutes later, Boro were level, and again O’Neill was heavily involved. This time his shot wasn’t cleared, allowing Nicholas Hood to score from close range.
Those goals before the break had swung the momentum back in the hosts’ favour, but we started the second half on the front foot and quickly regained our advantage, Ballard firing home after a mazy Smith Rowe run and inviting low cross found our captain at the back post.
Smith Rowe was excelling, and only Zach Hemming’s fine stop prevented him from adding his second goal of the evening. Virginia saved from Spence at the other end but we looked the more likely to extend our advantage, with Hemming again called into action to save from John-Jules and Xavier Amaechi shooting inches wide.
In the end, those spurned opportunities didn’t matter - though we were dealt a late scare when O’Neill sent a late free-kick inches wide.
WHAT IT MEANS
We’ve reached the last eight of the competition for the third time in the last five seasons, joining Blackpool, who won 2-0 at Ipswich. We’ve been drawn away at the winner of Colchester United v Reading in our quarter-final. Those sides meet in Essex next Tuesday.
Kwame Ampadu’s team are away at second-bottom Reading in the Under-18 Premier League South on Saturday, February 10.
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