Town win 6-5 on penalties after goalless 120 minutes
Frankie Bunn’s Development Squad progressed to the quarter finals of the Under-21 Premier League Cup thanks to a dramatic sudden death penalty shootout win over visitors Charlton Athletic at Stalybridge Celtic’s Bower Fold on Tuesday afternoon.
Despite genuine chances for both sides, it took penalties to separate the sides after 120 hard-fought goalless minutes in difficult conditions, with Charlton’s Mikhail Kennedy the unfortunate man whose penalty miss gave Town the win.
Frankie Bunn fielded a fully-fledged Under-21 side for the tie, with no overage players and two first year Academy scholars starting in Regan Booty and Jacob Hanson.
In heavy rain, it was the visitors who adapted better to the muddy conditions in the early going, testing Town ‘keeper Lloyd Allinson to the limits within the first 10 minutes.
Charlton’s Joe Pigott - a giant striker who had just returned from a loan at League 2 Newport County - played Kennedy into the area and Allinson was sharply off his line to smother the chance.
Shortly afterwards Pigott’s strike partner Karlan Ahearne-Grant tried his luck with a fierce drive, but once again Allinson came to Town’s rescue – saving the initial shot before doing just enough to turn Pigott’s follow-up header onto the post.
Good high pressing from Bunn’s side saw the visitors gift possession to Duane Holmes just after the quarter hour mark, but when through on goal he placed his side-footed effort straight at Addicks ‘keeper Dillon Phillips.
The teams continued to exchange chances, with adventurous Charlton right back Levander Pyke going close on two occasions, before Town had a goal from a corner ruled out in the 36th minute; Joe Wright’s close range header crossed off because of an infringement on the goalkeeper.
An excellent 40th minute dribble into the area from Holmes deserved more than the left-footed finish over the bar soon afterwards and set the tone for an improved second half from the young Terriers, who took the game to the visitors.
Danish Under-19 international midfielder Philip Billing emerged as a key figure; it was his superb cross-field pass that Booty returned on the volley across the face of goal with Town striker Flo Bojaj just inches away from grabbing his fourth of the Under-21 season, in the 54th minute.
Billing created another chance barely a couple of minutes later when his 35 yard piledriver was palmed out into the path of Ben Atkinson, who stumbled and could only divert the ball against the far post with the goal at his mercy.
At the other end Kennedy was keeping Town’s defence honest with some mazy runs down the Charlton right, but Atkinson spurned another great chance with 20 minutes left after Holmes’ pass put him clear; his shot was too close to Phillips, who saved to his left side.
Errors started to creep into the games of both teams as the 90th minute passed and the tie went into the 30 minutes of extra time, with Hanson and Joe Wilkinson providing superb last-ditch tackles for Town to keep the scores level.
Charlton’s best chance of the game fell to substitute Harry Osbourne in the 101st minute, but his shot on the angle arrowed over the bar of the advancing Allinson’s goal.
It looked like Town had sealed the win with the final kick of extra time as scholar Jack Boyle curled a free-kick towards the corner of the net from 20 yards, but somehow the shot flew mere inches wide of the upright.
And so the game went to penalties. The first six spot-kicks were converted, but after Daniel Carr’s fourth for Town was saved the next three were missed; the final of which would have sealed the game for Charlton.
Instead, Town regained their nerve and Rekeil Pyke, Billing and Joe Wright scored from 12 yards – which was enough to seal the win when Kennedy hit the bar with Charlton’s eighth kick.
Town’s Under-21s now enter the quarter-final stage, joining already qualified Stoke City, Newcastle United and reigning holders Reading.
Lloyd Allinson, Jacob Hanson, William Boyle (c), Sondre Tronstad (Rekeil Pyke, 99), Joe Wright, Joe Wilkinson, Regan Booty, Ben Atkinson (Jack Boyle, 74), Duane Holmes, Flo Bojaj (Daniel Carr, 108), Philip Billing
Tadhg Ryan, Ben Holmes
Ben Atkinson (20); Duane Holmes (94); Joe Wilkinson (98)