Smith-Brown 80mins, Bryan 85mins (pen)
West Ham 1
J Brown 8mins
- Match reports
- 10 May 2014 14:34
- Posted by @porter_mcfc / pics by @Vhaydn_MCFC
City u18s launched a thrilling second half comeback to book a play-off final berth at the expense of West Ham.
The visitors took an early lead, but two goals in five minutes from Ashley Smith-Brown and Kean Bryan saw the Blues deservedly progress to the last two after a dominant performance that might have yielded more goals but for a sterling defensive effort from the Hammers.
After a sensational league season in which the young Blues topped the North Division by eight points and lost just six times, City were looking to do themselves justice and make it six wins on the bounce to secure a valuable final spot.
With so much at stake, Jason Wilcox will have been pleased to select such a strong side to take on the Hammers.
Brandon Barker won his race to be fit for the game, which meant there were just two changes from the side that started against Newcastle last time out. Barker replaced Aaron Nemane on the left wing, while Tosin Adarabioyo made his return to the centre of defence alongside Nathaniel Oseni.
That meant space for Smith-Brown to move forward into midfield, while Bryan dropped to the bench after seeing increasing action for Patrick Vieira’s EDS squad this term.
Both teams took time to settle into the match, but City were seeing much the better of possession in the early stages, and were terribly unlucky to concede first against the run of play. The visitors seized on a defensive error and striker Jordan Brown had the easiest of tasks to tuck the ball into the empty net.
Fired up by the early goal, West Ham pressed for a second and had the ball in the net once more just minutes later, although the flag had long since been raised for offside, and were unhappy not to receive a penalty when Brown hit the floor – the referee uninterested in the claims.
After the early pressure, it was all City. Oseni headed over the bar from a corner, Thierry Ambrose hit the post after being played through by Smith-Brown, while Barker was only denied by the legs of Vit Nemrava in the West Ham goal after cutting inside to get a powerful shot away.
The Blues were desperate to restore parity before the break, and Jorge Intima, Adarabioyo and Smith-Brown all had chances to make the breakthrough, but no one could quite apply the finishing touch.
It was a similar story after the break, when City dominated possession and territory but they struggled to create many clear cut chances to find the equaliser. Barker saw two shots blocked, while Intima danced round the defence to set up Ambrose, but the Frenchman found Nemrava in fine form once more to turn his effort behind.
At the other end, Nathaniel Oseni made an important crunching tackle, while Billy O’Brien was called upon to deny Nathan Mavila.
The visitors threw themselves at every City effort in an effort preserve the lead, and City nearly profited from an own goal before Barker, Bryan and Ambrose all had attempts blocked by a stubborn West Ham defence.
Captain Smith-Brown, who had moved to right back when Bryan made his appearance from the bench, finally found the equaliser with ten minutes to play. The versatile skipper fought his way through the banks of defenders to curl his shot past the despairing Nemrava for his second goal in two games.
The Blues never looked like settling for extra time, and were awarded a penalty just minutes later when Mavila was adjudged to have handled as he attempted yet another clearance.
West Ham may well be sick of the sight of Kean Bryan by now, the midfielder got his name on the scoresheet when the two teams met last month and he made no mistake from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way and finishing confidently into the corner.
Torrential rain hampered attempts at stylish football in the closing minutes, but it didn’t dampen spirits as City saw out the game in a calm and professional manner, and might even have had a late third but Bryan’s shot sailed high over the bar.
It was a well-deserved victory, and Everton or Spurs now await the boy Blues in the final for the chance to finish the season as National Champions.