Jack Roles found a goal out of nothing towards the end of a difficult first half as we went in 2-1 behind at the break, but after Cameron Cresswell finished beyond goalkeeper Jonathan De Bie – who made a series of fine stops on his return from injury – nine minutes after the restart we were left with an uphill task.
The introduction of three Under-16s players – Paris Maghoma, Rayan Clarke and Brooklyn Lyons-Foster – gave us fresh impetus, though, and after Maghoma curled home a free-kick, experienced Under-18s campaigner Kazaiah Sterling popped up with an 85th-minute equaliser.
The Rams were shell-shocked and we looked to take full advantage in the last few minutes, but the closest we came to what had earlier seemed an unlikely winner was when Keanan Bennetts’ late free-kick hit the bar and Nick Tsaroulla couldn’t quite nod home the bouncing ball in the six-yard box.
It was a gripping end to our first Under-18s meeting with Derby since August, 2010, when a certain Harry Kane scored twice in a 2-1 win.
Goalkeeper De Bie, who suffered an injury to his spleen on international duty for Belgium Under-17s at the start of February, will have been pleased to make it back for the last Under-18 Premier League game of the season but he was kept busy on his return as we struggled to get a foothold in the game during the first period at Derby’s training ground and found it tough to deal with their set pieces.
In the opening five minutes he had to race out of his area to deny Luke Thomas before making a great back-post block from Connor Dixon, but he could do nothing to prevent the Rams from grabbing a 12th-minute lead when Jayden Bogle headed in Jack Haywood’s corner.
De Bie was superbly in action again midway through the first half to keep out Cresswell’s low effort as he got on the end of a free-kick but on 41 minutes, his fine save from Dixon was in vain as Jayden Mitchell-Lawson converted the loose ball from the right-hand side of the area for 2-0 to the home side.
Above: Matt Lock brings the ball out from the back.
We were given a lift two minutes later, however, when Roles picked up the ball 25 yards out and lashed a shot across goalkeeper Matthew Yates and into the bottom corner.
Our start to the second half was purposeful but Derby dealt us another blow on 54 minutes when Cresswell raced onto a long ball out from the back down the right channel and slotted home for 3-1.
Cresswell was having quite a duel with De Bie, with the goalkeeper pouncing bravely at his feet twice more during the game to thwart the striker and that commitment was rewarded at the other end on 68 minutes when Bennetts was tripped 20 yards out and Maghoma stepped up to curl the resulting free-kick inside the near post to open his Under-18s account.
Maghoma instinctively nudged towards goal shortly afterwards when Bogle accidentally knocked Sterling’s low drive back across goal, but the speed of the ball left him no time to control it and it struck the bar before spinning behind.
We found an equaliser on 85 minutes when Clarke slipped a neat pass through to Sterling, who clipped it beyond Yates from a difficult angle on the right and, from there, we looked most likely to grab a winner. However, after Bennetts’ 25-yard free-kick struck the bar and Tsaroulla couldn’t make the most of the second ball on 88 minutes, we ran out of time.
The result means we finish the merit group stage of the Under-18 Premier League in second place in group two.
JOHN MCDERMOTT, HEAD OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, SAID
“It’s important to be consistent. Last Saturday (3-2 defeat at Aston Villa) I thought we played really well and as upsetting as the result was, the performance wasn’t displeasing whereas today, we could have won it at the end but overall we had too few positive and committed performances. I’m probably more frustrated today after drawing than last weekend after losing but, saying that, a huge positive today was Jonathan De Bie. After coming back from such a serious injury to his spleen, the commitment and bravery he showed epitomises what’s needed to be a professional footballer. I was also really pleased with Paris Maghoma – he was a difference-maker today, he took his opportunity and did really well with individual snippets of positive play but overall we lacked the passion and commitment that I’d expect from this group of players. Paris did well, Brooklyn Lyons-Foster showed a good commitment and Rayan Clarke had a very good assist for Kazaiah’s goal, but what we would hope is that the senior players would lead the way rather than the Under-16s and that’s why there’s a feeling of frustration.
“It’s not the end of the season – it’s the end of the league fixtures but now we go to Stemwede in Germany for a tournament. That’s a major part of the season where we play against some outstanding foreign opposition. You know my thoughts on the importance of a tournament format to try to prepare the boys for the Premier League so it’s far from the end of the season. The preparation for Stemwede will be as, if not more intense and we’ll go there looking to top the season off by winning the cup there.”
Spurs U18s: De Bie, Lock, Tsaroulla, Marsh (c), Omolabi, Tanganga, Bowden (P Maghoma 56), Roles (Clarke 64), Sterling, Reynolds (Lyons-Foster 64), Bennetts. Substitute (not used): Freeman (GK).
We return to Stemwede in Germany for the Under-19 Volksbank Cup later this month. We suffered a semi-final defeat to Liverpool on penalties during our last visit there two years ago. The tournament runs between May 26 and May 27.
In Croatia on Saturday, TJ Eyoma and Tashan Oakley-Boothe played the full game as England Under-17s made it through to the semi-finals of the European Under-17 Championship with a 1-0 victory over Republic of Ireland, qualifying for October’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India in the process. Reo Griffiths was an unused substitute.