Boro's youngsters fall just short against Everton in FA Youth Cup
Stevenage U18s put in a superb performance but fell just short against Everton in the FA Youth Cup this evening, suffering a 2-1 extra time defeat at The Lamex Stadium.
After a 90 minutes in which Boro had the better of the chances, the Toffees rallied and struck at either end of the first period of extra time to take one step in the fourth round. Darren Sarll’s youngsters fought back and halved the deficit through Jamie Sylvester but despite a late rally they couldn’t force penalties.
In both FA Youth Cup games prior to tonight Stevenage scored quickly and again here they pushed to gain the early advantage. Jack Storer fired wide, Ross Millard saw a dangerous cross gathered well by ‘keeper Mateusz Hewelt and captain Ben Kennedy headed wide from an Ed Jackson cross, all within the first 10 minutes.
The Toffees woke up and carved out a good opportunity on the counter when Nathan Broadhead met a Henry Charsley cross, only for Tyler Reading to save.
However back came the Boro youngsters and they really should have taken the lead with one of two glorious chances that came to them within a matter of minutes around the quarter hour. First Casey will be disappointed to have fired over after Hewelt failed to gather a Kennedy shot which looped up in the air, with the skipper then being thwarted by the ‘keeper a minute later when he found himself through on goal.
For their shakiness at the back, Everton were looking bright going forward and as the half progressed they worked themselves a number of opportunities in or around the Boro box, only to be met by a combination of diving blocks, excellent tackles and commanding headers clear. Even when under pressure, the men in red and white stayed composed and played the ball around the park neatly.
Conditions were worsening thanks to the wind and rain but both teams remained content to stick to their passing game, making it an enjoyable spectacle for the 417 present.
Just past the half hour Boro were again denied, this time by the woodwork. Kennedy was played in down the right but cut inside his defender, dribbled into the box and sent a low curling effort which was creeping in, only for a defender to flick out a foot and somehow send the ball onto the bar and away. Agonisingly close.
The Toffees had a couple of half chances at the other end in the final minutes of the half but bar one shot which found the side netting, Reading looked comfortable as the teams went in goalless.
The keeper had to be very alert at the start of the second half to come to Boro’s rescue after Everton carved out a chance down their right, with the former Norwich man then helpless as another shot from the left smashed against his post and bounced clear. Let-offs for Boro.
Both teams were enjoying spells of possession but defences were on top, with Ryan Johnson and Matt Smyth superb in the centre for Boro and ably assisted by Jack Jones and sub Norley Butaka at full-back and their hard-working midfield.
Whilst difficult to pick out individuals from an excellent team performance, Ben Kennedy was showing his captaincy credentials with an action-packed shift up top. Whether starting attacking moves or going alone – as he did with one 73rd minute run that won Boro a corner – the skipper was everywhere and epitomised the workrate his whole team were putting in.
As the clock ticked down Everton pushed forward with winger Michael Donohue looking a real danger down the flanks. The best chance of the half for the Toffees fell to the pacey midfielder who found himself free in the box with 14 minutes remaining, only for Reading to again come to Stevenage’s rescue.
Half-chances came and went in the remaining minutes, leading to extra time.
Jamie Sylvester came on for Bruce at the start of the 30 minutes additional time time but was soon kicking off again as Everton finally broke the deadlock seconds in with a looping header over Reading by Dyson, from another dangerous Donohue cross.
A goal to the good the Toffees proceeded to keep possession and make Boro run around in the rain, restricting the hosts to just one half-chance when Sylvester robbed the dozing defence and ran at goal only to be forced wide and crowded out.
As half-time in extra time loomed, Everton went 2-0 up from another swift counter-attack – Broadhead finding the back of the net to put the visitors in a seemingly winnable position.
Sylvester forced a low save from Hewelt and Butaka hit the post from a corner, only to see the ‘keeper pounce on the loose ball as Boro’s luck looked well and truly to be out. However an excellent finish by Sylvester with just 7 minutes remaining gave Boro hope and was just reward for a bright appearance by the sub.
Stevenage piled on the pressure in the closing minutes but were unable to force an equaliser and take the game to penalties. It’s Everton that advance to Round 3 but Stevenage can hold their heads up high and be proud of their excellent performance.
Stevenage: Reading; Jones, Smyth, Johnson, Jackson (Butaka 46); Kerr, Storer, Bruce (Sylvester 90); Casey, Millard (Yamfam 80), Kennedy
Subs not used: Patel, Carney
Everton: Hewelt, Yates, Connolly, Walsh (Holland 61), Thorniley, Bainbridge, Donohue (Evans 111), Duffus (Robinson 70), Dyson, Broadhead, Charsley
Subs not used: O’Loughlin, Myers
Referee: George Sprague