By Max Jones at Boreham Wood
Arsenal Under-18s secured their place in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup with a 2-1 win against Royston Town in front of 1,279 fans.
It was a hard-fought win for the Gunners against their non-league opponents, and it sets up a home clash with Crewe Alexandra.
Joe Grossi’s second-minute strike gave Royston a shock lead but Stephy Mavididi scored a brace to put Arsenal in front going into half-time.
The forward and Dan Crowley had opportunities to add a third after the break but the Gunners were restricted to two by the visitors’ organised and resilient defending.
SETTING THE SCENE
Frans de Kat made three changes to the side that beat Reading 1-0 in the third round.
Renny Smith replaced Stefan O’Connor at centre back, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kaylen Hinds’ returns saw Ben Sheaf and Aaron Eyoma drop to the bench.
Non-league Royston Town had already battled through seven rounds to secure a dream tie with Arsenal.
However, theGunners had not won the Youth Cup since 2009 and the inclusion of Maitland-Niles and Gedion Zelalem signalled De Kat’s intent to better last season’s semi-final finish.
Royston looked fired up from the first whistle and were soon rewarded for their sharpness on the counter-attack. Mavididi hit the post from Hinds’ cross and the visitors broke to thread through Grossi, who slotted past Ryan Huddart.
Arsenal looked shellshocked as Josh Castiglione then powered through and fired just wide of the far post before Callum Wilson floated a free-kick inches away from the top corner.
But for all of Royston’s threat up front, they were punished for mistakes at the back. The visitors failed to clear a low cross, Mavididi collected in the box and rifled into the bottom corner.
The equaliser knocked the wind out of Royston and Arsenal seized control when Mavididi capitalised on a defensive slip and delicately chipped over Ben Watson into the net to take the lead on the stroke of half-time.
After a slow start to the first half, Arsenal came flying out after the interval and Crowley was unlucky to see his dipping free-kick crash into the side netting.
Marc Bola then arrowed a bouncing ball just over the crossbar from the edge of the box before Hinds drove into the box and smashed off target.
Mavididi had a chance to complete his hat-trick with seven minutes remaining after Maitland-Niles found him at the back post but Royston had enough bodies on the goal line to clear.
Crowley then drilled a low strike wide from 20 yards before Sam Fletcher was sent off for the visitors as Arsenal cruised into the fifth round.
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