FA Youth Cup Fourth Round
Arsenal 2 (Mavididi 37, 43) Royston Town 1 (Grossi 4)
By Jeorge Bird @ Meadow Park, Borehamwood
Arsenal U18s survived a considerable scare this evening to reach the Fifth Round of the FA Youth Cup.
Pitted against non-league Royston Town, Arsenal were widely expected to prevail, but they were given cause for concern when Royston took a shock lead through Joe Grossi with just four minutes on the clock. However, two goals from Stephy Mavididi, the second of which was created wonderfully by Dan Crowley, gave Arsenal the lead before the interval and they managed to hold on, with Royston being reduced to ten men in the closing stages.
There were several changes from the side that beat Reading in the previous round. Stefan O’Connor missed out with a back injury so Renny Smith was drafted in at centre-back, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles returned in place of Ben Sheaf in midfield and Kaylen Hinds was preferred to Aaron Eyoma on the right flank.
subs: M. Bola (for C. Willock, 46), Sheaf (for Zelalem, 76), Eyoma (for Hinds, 80). Not used: Donovan, Keto.
It was an unfamiliar scenario for Arsenal, who are used to facing the youth sides of their Premier League rivals, but Royston quickly demonstrated that this wasn’t going to be a walkover for the young Gunners.
Arsenal could in fact have taken the lead themselves in the opening exchanges, but Mavididi squandered two opportunities in quick succession, first striking a post and then forcing a corner with his subsequent effort.
It wasn’t long, though, before Royston, backed by a vociferous set of supporters who had travelled on coaches to the game, stunned Meadow Park by opening the scoring with less than five minutes gone. Arsenal struggled to deal with a swift breakaway and Reece King swept the ball into the path of Grossi, who finished confidently past Ryan Huddart.
The goal sparked wild celebrations on the Royston bench and it took some time for Arsenal, and the unfamiliar central-defensive pairing of Renny Smith and George Dobson in particular, to regain their composure.
Crowley, inevitably, led the fightback, with the midfielder seeing a free-kick hit the wall before then being denied by an excellently-timed defensive challenge.
Arsenal couldn’t retain possession for long enough, though, and they were in danger of losing their cool, with Maitland-Niles and Crowley both picking up needless bookings.
Arsenal gradually started to create more chances, however, and they eventually equalised through Mavididi, albeit with a hint of controversy attached after the striker appeared to bundle over an opponent before scoring.
The referee allowed to strike to stand and Arsenal were suddenly back to their usual selves as they passed the ball around with increased intensity.
Maitland-Niles sent an effort wide before Huddart had to be alert to clear the danger at the other end.
Before the break, though, all Royston’s hard work would be undone, with Crowley weaving his way through a crowd of players before finding Mavididi who finished adroitly to put Arsenal ahead.
Had Arsenal gone into the break one goal down there would have been genuine concerns about them possibly being on the receiving end of one of the biggest shocks in FA Youth Cup history. As it stood, though, they had the lead, and didn’t often look like relinquishing it in the second half.
Marc Bola, a surprising omission from the starting line-up, was introduced at the start of the second-half in place of Chris Willock, with Tyrell Robinson moving into a more advanced position on the left flank.
Bola’s introduction helped to give Arsenal more defensive solidity and the first-year scholar also provided some attacking momentum, too.
He helped to initiate the move that led to Robinson being brought down just outside the penalty area, with Crowley sending the resultant free-kick narrowly wide of the near post.
Crowley, having perhaps been a little too intricate in his play in the first-half, was beginning to become increasingly influential in the second-half, and Royston were struggling to deal with him, as evidenced by one challenge that knocked the midfielder out of his stride.
Undeterred, Crowley quickly set about inflicting more misery on the tiring opposition defence. He twisted and turned intelligently before finding Bola, who sent a fierce effort just over the crossbar.
Royston offered an occasional threat to the Arsenal goal, but their cause was hampered when defender Gus Morris was stretchered off injured.
Arsenal were far more controlled in possession in the second period and they could have had further goals to show for their dominance, with Chiori Johnson’s cross almost being diverted for an own goal.
Hinds and Crowley both went close to scoring, with Mavididi then missing two opportunities to complete his hat-trick.
Royston were given renewed hope at the death as they won a corner but Huddart claimed the ball confidently to effectively crush the dreams of the non-league hopefuls.
A late red card for Royston’s Sam Fletcher was rather inconsequential, but it proved to be the final act of an engrossing game in which the visitors had more than played their part.
It is Arsenal, though, who continue to progress in this competition, with Frans De Kat’s side to face Crewe Alexandra at home in the next round. Given the events of tonight, the young Gunners certainly won’t be expecting an easy encounter.