Stepping out for our first match in the seven-game merit group stage of the Under-18 Premier League season, we took full control early on with Keanan Bennetts’ dangerous cross turned into his own net by Stoke defender James Butler, before midfielder Jamie Reynolds bagged his first goal at this level with a well-struck effort following Kazaiah Sterling’s cut-back.
We had countless chances to extend our lead further in the moments that followed with Reo Griffiths, Bennetts and Tariq Hinds – operating in a central midfield role – all going agonisingly close.
But Tyrese Campbell reduced Stoke’s arrears shortly before the break and after a tough battle in the second half in which we still had a couple of good opportunities to score, towering substitute Jordon Greenidge squirmed in an 89th-minute equaliser after we gave the ball away cheaply in midfield.
With certain players missing due to the international break, holding midfielders George Marsh and Oliver Skipp diligently filled in at centre-back and proved particularly solid, the latter making two very well-timed challenges at the end of each half.
But the early focus was very much at the other end as Bennetts’ fantastic cross from the left was sliced into his own net by defender Butler nine minutes in, before Reynolds doubled our tally two minutes later, striking low across goalkeeper Mitchel Allen from the right side of the box after Sterling broke through and set him up.
Griffiths struck the base of the post on 19 minutes with Sterling’s effort on the rebound blocked by Butler, while Allen got his fingertips to Bennetts’ angled drive moments later and then tipped Griffiths’ back-post header from Bennetts’ cross over the bar just beyond the half-hour mark.
Hinds slid a low shot just the wrong side of the upright seconds later as we kept the pressure on, but Stoke grabbed a lifeline on 36 minutes when we lost possession close to the byline and Campbell, in behind our defence, slipped the ball beyond Brandon Austin from a tight angle on the left.
Campbell was in again six minutes before half-time but Skipp came across with a fantastic covering challenge, with Jaden Brown blocking from Jacob Twyford on the rebound.
Above: Brandon Austin tips a cross over the bar.
It was our stickiest patch of the game and although the second period yielded some frustrating moments, we still remained largely in control. Sterling’s shot-on-the-turn was blocked on the line while Bennetts saw his free-kick beaten away by the keeper. Bennetts also skied one over the top from inside the box but, with a minute of normal time left, we gave the ball away in midfield and Greenidge ran at our defence before squeezing a shot through a crowded area and under Austin’s body to restore parity.
There was a fair amount of stoppage time to be played and both sides almost snatched a winner. Austin saved Campbell’s free-kick and then watched as Vazoumana Karamoko’s low drive whistled inches past his left-hand post, while Sterling’s attempt at the back stick was scrambled clear by Stoke as the points were shared.
JOHN MCDERMOTT, HEAD OF PLAYER DEVELOPMENT, SAID
“We had an awful lot of very, very good opportunities, especially in the first half when we played really well into a breeze. In the second half we had some pretty amazing misses and some pretty bizarre goals conceded so it’s a bit frustrating, although I’d rather it be frustrating in that we created chances and missed them than not creating anything in the first place.
“There were quite a few positives today. It was obviously essential to bounce back after last week’s FA Youth Cup defeat with a good performance and we’ve got nine boys not available today through international duty so that’s a really good opportunity for some of the younger players – the only down-side to that was we were probably a little bit unbalanced.
“Oliver Skipp and George Marsh, who both played at centre-half, were outstanding. They were up against two big boys but they’re really good, they always just get on with it and they both epitomise the character that we want at this club and what’s required to be a professional footballer, allied with the talent as well. Tariq Hinds did well as well, he’s a right back playing in central midfield, so I was pleased that we adapted but we were just unable to sustain the high quality in the first half, although we still had some mega chances and both goals came from quite bizarre unforced errors.”
Spurs U18s: Austin, Lock (Tsaroulla 60), Brown, Hinds, Marsh (c), Skipp, Griffiths (Gonzalez-Velasco 70), Duncan, Sterling, Reynolds (Patterson 60), Bennetts. Substituted (not used): Omolabi, Freeman (GK).
We head north next weekend for an away game against Middlesbrough in our second Under-18 Premier League merit group outing. Kick-off on Saturday, April 1, is at 11am.