by Teo Teng Kiat
Scorers: Barmby 42′, Van Velzen 76′, Wilson 97′; Sho-Silva 45′, 77′
In front of a watching Sir Alex Ferguson, United’s Academy team advanced into the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup after edging out Charlton in a thrilling 3-2 victory at Old Trafford.
The young Red Devils’ bid to defend their trophy was hampered by injuries to key players Tom Lawrence and Adnan Januzaj, while Joe Rothwell and Donald Love were both ruled out as well. Luke McCullough returned in time from injury to skipper the side, while Mats Daehli, Tyler Blackett, and Jack Barmby were all restored to the side after missing out during the 3-3 draw in the previous Academy game against Southampton.
Charlton were the much bigger side in terms of size, and they set about with a physical game-plan. Jonny Sutherland, picked ahead of Liam Jacob in goal, had to pull off a stunning stop from Callum Harriot early in the game. The midfielder was a constant menace, along with their giant striker Tobi Sho-Silva, while there was a famous name on show as well in Diego Poyet, the son of Gustavo Poyet.
United though, gradually got into the game, and took the lead when Jack Barmby lashed in a superb shot from just outside the box, which looked to have caught the ‘keeper off guard. The son of former player Nick Barmby has now scored in every round of the FAYC so far.
However, the lead only lasted three minutes, as Charlton equalised just before the break. Harriot’s shot from distance was superbly saved by Sutherland, but Sho-Silva was on hand to head home the rebound into the top corner, which the goalkeeper very nearly got a hand to as well. Harriot then wasted a glorious chance as he fired over in the box, as the teams went into the break level.
Nick Ioannou narrowly sliced a clearance over his own crossbar in the second half, but United took the lead when Daehli skipped free in midfield to tee up Liam Grimshaw. The rightback sent in a peach of a cross to the far post, where the lurking Van Velzen had no trouble heading in.
But Charlton equalised again within 21 seconds, as Sho-Silva’s precise low shot from the edge of the area found the corner of the goal to make it 2-2
The striker then headed a hat-trick chance over the bar, as Charlton looked the stronger team despite having gone down to ten men following an injury to Harry Gerard after using up all three substitutes. Top-scorer Adebayo Azeez came on and forced a stunning goal-line clearance from Ioannou, and when he raced clear to face Sutherland, the goalkeeper denied him with a superb fingertip save.
Those defensive heroics would prove to be vital when Charni Ekangamene sent Van Velzen racing down the left with three minutes left, and the Dutch winger held off his marker well to roll it back across goal for substitute James Wilson to steer superbly into the bottom right corner for the winning goal.
It was a hard-fought victory for the lads against a physically imposing Charlton side, who proved they were no pushovers after beating Tottenham in the previous round.
Daehli was lively in midfield, while Van Velzen and Barmby both impressed, but Nick Ioannou stood out for me with his excellent defending. The 16 year-old schoolboy rarely put a foot wrong in defence, and also put in a superb last-ditch tackle at 2-2, in addition to his absolutely stunning block off the line. The son of Cypriot legend Demetris, he is the first player from Cyprus to represent United. Sutherland was also impressive in goal as he made a few very good stops, the pick of the bunch which was the save off Azeez at 2-2 as well. Grimshaw also had a good game at rightback, showing composure to get out of tight situations with good skill, while also delivering a Beckham-like cross for the second goal.
It is heartening to see this side do well, after they got off to a shaky start at the beginning of the season. They have certainly grown tremendously as a team, and the U16 boys have also never looked out of place when required to step up, due to an injury crisis which has at times hit the side pretty hard this season.
While it might be asking a little too much of them to emulate the feats of Pogba and co last season, we can be sure that they will definitely give the Chelsea boys a good fight over the two legs of the semi-final.
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