FA Youth Cup 3rd Round
Arsenal 1 (Crowley (pen) 65) Reading 0
Arsenal’s youngsters can start to dream of a lengthy run in the FA Youth Cup after they survived a late scare to beat Reading in the 3rd Round of the competition at Borehamwood this evening.
Dan Crowley’s well-taken penalty put Arsenal ahead but extra-time beckoned when Reading were awarded a spot-kick of their own in stoppage time. However, Harry Caldwell missed spectacularly to send the young Gunners through to the Fourth Round, where they will host Royston Town.
Arsenal’s victory was all the more commendable given that it was achieved without several key players. Ainsley Maitland-Niles watched the game but is likely to be involved in first-team training tomorrow, whilst defenders Tafari Moore, Julio Pleguezuelo, Elliot Wright and Marc Bola were all missing through injury.
The team selected by Frans De Kat was pretty much as expected, with one slight difference as Ben Sheaf was preferred to Renny Smith in the deep-lying midfield position. Stefan O’Connor marshalled an inexperienced back four, whilst Gedion Zelalem, Crowley and Chris Willock were relied upon to provide the service to lone striker Stephy Mavididi, who despite not scoring, was very impressive with his link-up play.
subs: Hinds (for Eyoma, 73). Not used: Keto, Smith, Donovan, Chatzitheodoridis.
Reading were presented with an opportunity early on when Arsenal squandered possession, but Ryan Huddart was untroubled by a weak effort.
The visitors started with a surprising level of intensity to their play and George Dobson was forced into a rash challenge early on that saw him booked.
Reading had started brightly, but Arsenal gradually managed to work their way into the game, with Sheaf’s long pass very nearly finding the marauding Chiori Johnson, but the ball just ran away from the right-back at the crucial moment.
Aaron Eyoma, a sprightly presence on Arsenal’s right flank, was seeing a lot of the ball early on and the winger was starting to cause problems for the Reading defence. In one incident his cross fell to left-back Tyrell Robinson, who in turn found Crowley, but the latter’s effort was blocked.
Arsenal came perilously close to scoring when Crowley cut inside and found Mavididi, who rattled the crossbar with his header.
Johnson then burst forwards again from right-back and delivered an excellent cross, but, frustratingly, there were no Arsenal players on hand to meet it. Willock then headed over shortly afterwards.
Reading had the occasional attempt, but Huddart still didn’t have too much to do, with the vast majority of the action occurring down the other end of the field.
Arsenal, though, struggled to turn their possession into something tangible. Johnson did well to find Zelalem, whose shot was saved, with Willock then cutting inside and shooting over.
Zelalem and Willock both missed further opportunities as the first-half drew to a close, but Arsenal’s dominance was becoming increasingly apparent.
That trend continued after the interval, with Crowley quickly exchanging passes with Mavididi before seeing a shot saved. Zelalem was not heavily involved throughout, but the German midfielder still provided some moments of magic, such as a precise pass that found Eyoma, but the winger could only direct his effort into the side-netting.
Arsenal had a penalty claim turned down when Sheaf felt he was brought down in the area, but that did little to quell their momentum, with Crowley then embarking on a mazy run before being denied once more.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, with Reading occasionally threatening on the counter-attack, but Arsenal were edging increasingly closer to taking the lead.
Zelalem twice came close to scoring and then Willock nearly created an opportunity with a neat cross, but like with Johnson’s effort in the first-half, there was no recipient on hand in the area.
Arsenal’s agonising wait to make the breakthrough finally came to an end when they were awarded a penalty. Willock was the player fouled, but much credit should go to Dobson for his excellent work in the build-up to the move that led to Willock being brought down.
Crowley, as captain, stepped up to take the penalty and converted it confidently.
The goal seemed to suddenly spark Reading back into life as an attacking force, with Arsenal forced to drop deep as the visitors finally staged a sustained attack on the Gunners’ goal.
Arsenal had a chance to effectively confirm their victory when Crowley found substitute Kaylen Hinds, but the striker’s effort was off target.
Soon afterwards Arsenal staged a breakaway from a Reading corner, with Crowley leading the charge forward. The diminutive midfielder looked up and spotted an option to his right, but O’Connor, who had raced forward from centre-back, wasn’t the ideal candidate for that situation and his effort went wide.
Reading went all out for the equaliser as time ticked away, but Arsenal stood firm despite Hammad Lawel hitting a post. There was still a major scare to come in the final seconds when Reading were awarded a penalty, but Caldwell, perhaps a little overawed by the sense of occasion, blasted his effort over.
Arsenal’s hopes of winning this competition for the first time since 2009 are still very much alive and they will be expected to prevail against non-league opposition in the next round. If the likes of Maitland-Niles, Pleguezuelo and Moore are back in time for the later rounds, then Arsenal’s chances of progressing far will only increase.