Stevenage’s run in the FA Youth Cup came to an end with a 3-1 defeat at Wigan Athletic in the third round last night.
After wins in the previous two rounds against Aveley and Cambridge United, Boro travelled north with confidence and their squad of first and second year scholars was supplemented with Under-16s Andronicos Georgiou, Charlie O’Keefe, Ben Wilmot and David Etheridge, plus work experience loanee Kofi Boateng from Norwich and Elite Development Programme striker Sam Dowridge.
Going into the game with great belief, Boro nearly got a dream start at the Robin Park Arena with Louis Yamfam driving into the box and firing in an effort which the Wigan ‘keeper parried away.
The visitors’ early dominance continued with Kerr firing a 30-yard free-kick straight at the goalkeeper and Georgiou nearly finding the bottom corner from a tight angle, but saw his shot bounce wide on 11 minutes.
However Wigan took the lead just before the quarter-hour mark. A neat ball between centre-half and full-back saw highly-rated striker James Barrigan through and he fired past the onrushing Jackson to put the hosts 1-0 up.
The Latics pushed forward again immediately and four minutes later doubled their advantage. Another attack down the left saw Wigan capitalise on a slip by Kerr and midfielder Matt Rimmer was there to smash home from yards out after a cross found him.
Boro were rocked and their cause wasn’t helped on 24 minutes when Georgiou went off injured, to be replaced by fellow Under-16 David Etheridge. Luke Slater went close with a header as Stevenage looked to get back into the game and then moments later Matt Smyth thought he’d pulled one back with a thumping header from a Kerr free-kick, but saw the ball fly inches wide.
Two goals to the good, Wigan began to show why they are top of their division, keeping possession and continuing to create further chances to extend their lead.
Going into the half-time break with a two goal deficit, Stevenage looked to make amends in the second half knowing the next goal was vital. However within seconds of the restart they were undone and made to pay once again. Straight from kick-off the ball was played forward and Barrigan was taken out by Jackson inside the box – the striker dusting himself down to bag his second and Wigan’s third goal.
Barrigan went close to his hat-trick a few minutes later when a close-range header bounced off the post. It was another let-off for the visitors and fortunately for them, the talented Barrigan was forced from the field through injury later in the half.
Stevenage were handed a lifeline back into the game on 57 minutes when Luke Slater drove with the ball to the edge of the box and smashed home a fine individual effort. Then 60 seconds later Boro went close to an immediate second when Etheridge was slipped in, but a covering defender came back with a last-gasp challenge.
Sub Ben Wilmot, on for the injured Kerr, made a superb goal-line clearance as Wigan looked to kill the game completely with a fourth, but Stevenage hung in there and pushed forward in the closing stages, albeit to no avail.
Etheridge again went close with a free header that flew over and Zak Guerfi tried his luck from 30 yards with five minutes remaining, but Wigan hung on to secure victory and a home draw in Round 4 against either Derby County or West Ham United.
Stevenage: Jackson, Kerr, Smyth (Wilmot 55), Croud, Boeteng (Dowridge 71), Brady, Guerfi, Yamfam, Slater, Georgioiu (Etheridge 24), Cregan
Stevenage subs not used: Schmid, O’Keefe