The forward exhibited some precise finishing to bag his first three goals at this level, while lively Under-16s wide man J’neill Lloyd-Bennett capped an impressive individual performance by adding his name to the scoresheet at Hotspur Way.
We’d lost 1-0 at home to Villa Under-18s in the league earlier in the season, but lessons had clearly been learned as we dominated the game after a shaky start in which Indiana Vasillev gave the visitors the lead.
All three keepers involved – young Josh Oluwayemi enjoyed a run-out off the bench in the second half in only his second competitive appearance of the season – had saves to make but, crucially, we racked up the goal difference to allow us to progress to the last eight of the competition as one of the two best second-placed teams, with six points and a plus-three goal difference in Group E.
We conceded the opener inside four minutes as Colin Odutayo powered forward down the left and cut back for Isaiah Bazeley-Graham to sting the palms of goalkeeper Jonathan De Bie, with Vasillev able to shake off Jamie Reynolds to eventually convert the rebound at the back post.
But four minutes later we were up and running as Reo Griffiths played in to the feet of Richards (pictured, below), who turned Ethan Patterson on the edge of the box and delivered a low, well-placed shot into the bottom corner.
De Bie rushed off his line to block Dimitri Sea’s attempt while Lloyd-Bennett was causing all manner of problems for Villa down our left, frequently getting crosses into the box. After De Bie’s acrobatic save denied Odutayo on the break, the attacker got his reward as Rayan Clarke chased the ball down to the byline on the right before sending in a cross, which evaded everyone in the box before being converted by Lloyd-Bennett with one touch as he arrived at the left corner of the area.
De Bie and opposite number Emmanuel Idem had saves to make in the lead-up to half-time but after a positive start to the second period, Richards made it 3-1 with 66 minutes gone. Latching onto an excellently-weighted ball over the top from Jamie Bowden, he couldn’t quite get his shot away at the first time of asking so teed up Griffiths, his attempt was blocked in the box but Richards guided the rebound just inside the post from 10 yards out.
Six minutes later he had his hat-trick as Clarke again motored down the right, his shot was blocked but Richards was once more alive to the situation to convert the loose ball. Villa had a couple of late chances with Reynolds making a good back-post block from Lewis Brunt and substitute goalkeeper Oluwayemi turning away Odutayo’s effort, but the margin of victory remained intact, allowing us to progress to the next stage of the tournament.
COACH SCOTT PARKER SAID
“Our main aim today was to try to get a performance and I thought we were outstanding. Obviously it was a little bit of a sloppy start. We played against them earlier in the season and we knew they had that threat in behind, the boy up front was quick and their winger too, but we didn’t deal with it too well and went 1-0 down. The boys showed a lot of character, though, and in the end it was probably one of our best performances of the season.
“It’s fantastic for RJ (Richards). He’s been doing very well in training, he keeps his head down, does the right things and he fully deserved his hat-trick today – I thought he was outstanding. J’neill has done well with the Under-16s, he’s earned his chance to come up with us and today he was very good. The boys did really well.”
Spurs U18s: De Bie (c, Oluwayemi 76), Clarke, Reynolds, Bowden, Statham, Hinds, Richards (Markanday 79), Patterson, Griffiths (Pochettino 76), A Shashoua, Lloyd-Bennett. Substitutes (not used): Tainio, Mukendi.
It’s the final round of group stage matches in the UEFA Youth League on Wednesday. We host APOEL, knowing victory would secure top spot in our group and automatic progress to the last 16 of the competition for the first time. We’re already assured of a play-off round place. Kick-off is at 2pm at Hotspur Way. Following that, we host Chelsea in the Under-18 Premier League at the Training Centre next Saturday, kick-off 11am.