By Joe Brewin at London Colney
Arsenal Under-18s succumbed to a late two-goal salvo as Coventry claimed a point at London Colney on Saturday.
First-half goals from Josh Rees and Kyle Ebecilio had put Steve Bould’s youngsters in a commanding position, but late strikes from Coventry’s Will Roberts and Louis Gardner earned the young Sky Blues a share of the spoils.
In a physical second half, substitute Jeffrey Monakana saw red for the hosts.
Bould named a strong line-up for the game, with reserve regulars Martin Angha, Ebecilio, Rees and Zak Ansah all starting against a Coventry side flying high in Premier Academy League Group B.
The visitors, managed by Gregor Rioch, son of former Arsenal manager Bruce, arrived in Hertfordshire just a point behind leaders Leicester.
In a lively start, Reice Charles-Cook was alert at the feet of Roberts, before good work from Anthony Jeffrey teed up Arsenal’s Roberts, Philip, who scuffed wide.
The visitors looked sharp going forward and went close when Courtney Richards flashed a drive wide on the angle moments later.
But Arsenal eventually took the initiative to claim the breakthrough goal. Jeffrey was involved once more in the build-up, with the ball eventually landing at the feet of Rees who curled home his sixth Under-18s goal of the season.
Just six minutes later they had a second. Excellent work from Samir Bihmoutine set up Ebecilio on the edge of the area, and he drilled home with aplomb to double Arsenal's advantage.
Bihmoutine himself went close moments later, striding forward before firing an effort narrowly wide of Lee Burge’s goal.
Arsenal were in complete control by this stage and headed into the interval with their two-goal cushion.
Coventry introduced powerful striker Jonson Clarke-Harris up front as the visitors set about knocking the young Gunners out of their stride.
Charles-Cook handled well from a dangerous Roberts free-kick soon after the restart, before Ansah was denied by a fine challenge at the other end.
Clarke-Harris was proving a handful and Coventry came within inches of finding a goal of their own when Charles-Cook produced a magnificent save onto the post from the striker’s header.
But Arsenal still continued to play with comfort as the second period wore on, with Rees next to hit the woodwork after Burge’s fine save onto the crossbar.
Ebecilio’s mazy run created space for another opening, with the Dutch youth international eventually shooting agonisingly wide of the post.
Coventry continued to push for a route back into the tie with Clarke-Harris firing over from inside the area, before their pressure eventually told.
With his first touch of the game, substitute Alex Donald teed up Roberts, who stabbed home past Charles-Cook to set up a nervy finale for Bould’s youngsters.
Just a minute later the scores were equal. Coventry pushed forward once more and got their rewards when Gardner lashed home inside the area.
An entertaining afternoon’s football was soured in the later stages as Arsenal substitute Monakana was shown a straight red card after an altercation with Coventry’s Joe Henderson.
But Arsenal prevented the visitors from scoring an unlikely third, notching another point on the board in their bid to reach the season play-offs.
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