Town progress to the Fifth Round of the Youth Cup
For the second consecutive round Town’s FA Youth Cup fixture went to extra time – and for the second time the Under-18s came out victorious.
After defeating Luton Town on home soil in the Third Round, Town tonight won at Premier League West Bromwich Albion thanks to goals from Ben Atkinson, Jake Charles, Brad Carroll and Regan Booty.
This battling victory has setup a Fifth Round tie at home to either Leicester City or Manchester United, who play at the King Power Stadium on Thursday evening.
With the rain lashing down in the Midlands, the first-half was devoid of many clear-cut chances – although the first five minutes of the tie were incredibly open.
Albion striker Joe Ward miscued a shot when well positioned on the edge of the West Brom area, whilst at the other end alert ’keeping from West Brom’s Alex Palmer denied Jake Charles a clear run at goal after a smart-one two with 11 goal strike partner Flo Bojaj.
Home striker Ged Oldnall then curled over from the edge of the box, but after that the chances somewhat dried up for the rest of the opening half.
Town – all in yellow on the evening – were a constant threat through set pieces during the game, with the likes of centre backs William Boyle and Joe Wilkinson, midfielder Philip Billing and Bojaj towering over their opponents. As such, it was no surprise that two of the Terriers’ best early chances came through corners.
First full back Brad Carroll whistled a shot just wide of the motionless ‘keeper’s right-hand post after a corner had been half-cleared by the Baggies on 14 minutes, but then fellow Town full back Danny Kane spurned the best chance of the half seven minutes later – nodding wide at full stretch from another Charles corner when unmarked.
The hosts, who ply their trade in the top flight of English youth football due to their Academy holding category 1 status, had decent spells of possession throughout the half but failed to test Town custodian Sam Guthrie despite the best efforts of right winger Andre Wright, who looked like the danger-man for West Brom. For the most part, West Brom’s play lacked the necessary tempo to break down Town’s well-drilled back line.
For Town, striker Bojaj – an Albanian youth international – was dominant in the air and almost set strike partner Charles clear on goal on two occasions with clever through balls, only for the second year scholar to be denied by marginal offside calls - much to the audible chagrin of Town’s Professional Development Coach Frankie Bunn.
Another half chance came Town’s way in the final minute of the half when Charles sent centre back Kyle Howkins slithering across the slick Hawthorns turf with a clever touch before driving into the penalty area from the right wing. Unfortunately, the Welsh international overran his final touch in the face of another sliding tackle and the chance was gone.
Town picked up where they left off in the second period, with Bojaj stinging the palms of the Baggies ‘keeper via a left footed drive inside four minutes. Midfielder Ben Holmes’ similar long range was slightly easier pickings for the custodian just under ten minutes later, but was more evidence of Town’s ascendancy in the tie.
Town eventually took the lead in the 57th minute, with midfielder Ben Atkinson – brother of First Teamer Chris – netting his second of the season. The second year scholar showed striker-like instincts to follow in and lift the ball over the goalie after Jake Charles’ stinging left footer was parried up in the air.
Home Manager James Shan made a substitution soon after to try and change the flow of the game, but the Albion attackers found Town’s defence in no mood for mercy – with Boyle in particular pulling off a few noteworthy sliding tackles and blocks.
Boyle played a big role at the other end as Town went very close to extending their lead in the 67th minute. The centre back won the first header from a free-kick played into the box and Bojaj got his head to the second, but only managed to divert the ball wide of target from around the penalty spot.
West Brom midfielder George Cleet fired a decent-looking effort over Guthrie’s bar from outside the area with just under 20 minutes to play, but normal service was resumed when Town’s second year scholar Kedesh Goddard was prevented from turning Bojaj’s low cross home by a covering defender.
Right back Bradley Sweeney went as close as any West Brom player to scoring with a low drive that went around a foot wide of Town’s right-hand post, but the Baggies were struggling to get behind Town’s defence due to the high pressing game employed by the young Terriers.
The first error of the game from Boyle – a loose pass – almost let Wright in on goal with just over 10 minutes remaining, but centre half colleague Joe Wilkinson bailed him out with an expertly timed challenge.
West Brom finally upped the tempo in the final minutes – and forced Guthrie into his first save of note in the 84th minute. It was right back Sweeney who tested the goalie with a firm volley, but Guthrie was equal to it – firmly pushing the ball away with two hands.
In the face of constant pressure, West Brom’s equalised with five minutes to go. The ball found its way to Joe Ward on the edge of the box and the Baggies man steadied himself before expertly placing a high shot out of Guthrie’s reach before wheeling away to celebrate.
The equaliser was a blow given that the Terriers had been largely untroubled for most of the game, but Town contributed to their own downfall by gifting the hosts possession as they turned the screw late on.
Charles had a golden opportunity to prevent the game going to extra time in the final minute of the 90 after a poor defensive header dropped to him inside the penalty area, but credit had to go to ‘keeper Palmer, who sprang from his line to smother the shot at the source and deflect the ball behind for a corner.
Extra time began in earnest and it didn’t take Town long to restore their lead, with Charles finally making the hosts pay. In the 93rd minute substitute Regan Booty nodded the ball into his teammate’s path and from an acute angle, Jake managed to squeeze his shot underneath the goalkeeper for his 12th in just his 17th start.
Both sets of players were visibly tiring after a hard game, but Town left back Carroll was showing no signs of fatigue. On a few occasions he made razor-sharp interceptions and he looked to have settled the tie in the 103rd minute with a lung-bursting overlap. Charles cleverly flicked the ball into Brad’s path on the edge of the box and Carroll cut inside onto his favoured right foot before slotting the ball past the goalkeeper in composed manner.
However, the game was wide open once again in the last few seconds of the first-half of extra time thanks to an unfortunate own goal. West Brom won a corner on the Town right and when the front post sweeper missed the ball, Danish midfielder Philip Billing was caught unawares and fired a powerful header past his own goalkeeper.
Buoyed by their second goal the hosts pressed forward in the second half of extra time, but brave blocks by Town defenders kept the Baggies at bay. Sadly the hosts dropped to ten men late in the game with a man injured having used all their substitutes, whereas Town’s late sub Rekeil Pyke – an under-16 striker – showed great power and pace on a few occasions.
In the end, with West Brom searching for another equaliser, substitute Booty put the game to bed with his second goal in as many rounds of the competition - firing low and hard into the far corner on the breakaway.
Town’s team (4-4-1-1):
Sam Guthrie; Brad Carroll, William Boyle, Joe Wilkinson (c), Danny Kane; Ben Holmes (Nathaniel Pells, 120), Philip Billing, Ben Atkinson (Regan Booty, 91), Kedesh Goddard; Jake Charles; Flo Bojaj (Rekeil Pyke, 112)
Chandler Hallwood, Jack Boyle
Philip Billing (111); Joe Wilkinson (120)