We had largely controlled the play prior to the goal, albeit without creating too many clear cut chances, with skipper George Marsh and Under-16s regular Nya Kirby especially combative, winning the ball and pushing us forward.
We found ourselves crowded out in the closing stages as we tried to find an equaliser, though, with Alfie Whiteman the busier of the two goalkeepers overall, making one or two fine saves prior to Hetherington’s breakthrough.
Held at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training base, the Barclays Under-18 Premier League contest got off to a fairly even start with neither side able to fashion any real chances.
We started to make inroads with 13 minutes gone as right-back Joe Muscatt twice picked out Samuel Shashoua on the edge of the box but the attacking midfielder couldn’t get a shot away on either occasion.
Marsh’s speculative half-volley from 20 yards out was comfortable for Middlesbrough goalkeeper Aynsley Pears, but it was further back that the midfielder was doing his best work, making one or two timely interventions with Joy Mukena doing likewise as Boro tried to force their way through on the counter.
Whiteman made the first of his saves midway through the half, pushing Marcus Tavernier’s fierce shot behind, with Hayden Coulson driving over from distance when the resulting corner found its way out to him. The hosts worked the ball in to Mitchell Curry eight yards out moments later but, with makeshift centre-back Charlie Owens for company, he couldn’t capitalise and Whiteman was able to smother.
Middlesbrough were starting to crank up the pressure and Jay Wilson’s tame effort from the right side was cleared off the line but we wrestled back the upper hand and after Dylan Duncan shot straight at Pears under pressure from a defender, Kazaiah Sterling’s cushioned header back across goal from Jack Roles’ free-kick flew just the wrong side of the upright.
Shashoua then surged in from the left, only to blaze high and wide, but it was Boro who had the clearest opening of the half three minutes before the break. Curry was once again played in on goal seven yards out, centrally, but Whiteman blocked the striker’s shot with his right leg at point-blank range.
Our goalkeeper was there again five minutes after the restart to tip Jack Lambert’s shot over after Curry shook off the attentions of Mukena and set up him in the box, while we went straight on the attack and Sterling dragged a shot across the face of goal and just wide of the far post.
Kirby then found the side netting before instigating a good break forward just after the hour mark, showing great strength to win the ball on half-way and carrying it on with Roles and Sterling in support. Unfortunately, though, the trio couldn’t capitalise and Kirby’s eventual shot was charged down, with Shashoua then firing over from 20 yards out.
It was Boro who broke the deadlock on 65 minutes after we’d initially dealt with a counter-attack down the left flank. Liam Hegarty picked the ball up on the right and swung it in for the unmarked Hetherington to head home.
Sterling’s shot-on-the-turn was gathered by Pears moments later but that was the only real opportunity we had to equalise as Boro closed ranks and kept us at arm’s length.
Hetherington almost doubled his tally a minute from time when the hosts countered through Curry – substitute defender Jon Dinzeyi did enough to prevent the latter from going clean through in the left channel but he pulled it back for Boro’s goalscorer, whose effort struck the post.
Spurs U18s: Whiteman, Muscatt (Dinzeyi 61), Brown, Marsh, Mukena, Owens, Duncan, Kirby, Sterling (Oteh 72), Roles, Shashoua (Bennetts 72). Substitute (not used): Freeman (GK).