Late turnaround sees us through in FA Youth Cup
Millwall 1-2 Spurs (AET)
Mon 17 December 2018, 22:07|Tottenham Hotspur
Our Under-18s needed a late equaliser and extra time to get past Millwall in the FA Youth Cup on Monday.
On a dramatic evening at The Den, we were punished for a below-par display over the 90 minutes by a spectacular goal from home skipper Billy Mitchell, which put us on the verge of being dumped out of the competition. But substitute J'Neil Bennett scrambled in an injury-time leveller to send the third round tie into extra time, with Rodel Richards converting a cut-back from the excellent Troy Parrott soon after the resumption to secure a 2-1 win.
Despite sitting top of the Under-18 Premier League, we couldn't seem to hit the attacking heights we have done so often on the domestic stage this season against a spirited side managed by our former defender Chris Perry. But with Parrott as the talisman up top, we hauled ourselves out of jail late on to book a fourth round trip to Arsenal.
Mitchell gave Millwall the lead in the first half with a goal to savour. It came in the 34th minute and although against the run of play, it wasn't entirely a surprise. We'd seen a number of free-kick appeals waved away and hadn't worked our way into the final third nearly as effectively as usual. Parrott had our best chance mid-way through the half when Richards did well to dart between defenders into the box from the left and eventually set him up, but home goalkeeper Joe Wright was equal to his side-footer from six-yards.
Then came the thunderbolt. We lost possession in the right-back area, Harry Taylor was onto the ball in a flash and he found Mitchell, who sent a first-time shot spinning into the top corner off the inside of the post from some 25 yards. Reuben Duncan only narrowly missed with a free-kick five minutes later as we continued to lack our usual ryhthm.
Millwall started the second half in the same manner and it was only a last-ditch challenge from behind by Dennis Cirkin on Samuel Skeffington that prevented the midfielder from hitting the target. Goalkeeper Josh Oluwayemi then kept us in the tie, stooping low to his right to somehow turn George Alexander's shot up and over the bar.
The introduction of Bennett gave us some fresh attacking impetus and Dilan Markanday was left kicking himself for squandering a couple of chances, first heading wide from Cirkin's cross and then seeing his first-time shot saved by Wright on his line. Determined to see out the victory, Millwall managed to get numerous bodies back into their area whenever we ventured forward, limiting our options, while going close themselves when Jayden Davis drilled wide at the back post following a good team move.
The hosts were tiring but, for us, time was running out. Parrott used his physicality superbly well at centre-forward to combat Millwall's own challenge and almost fashioned a leveller when his shot on the turn was clawed behind by Wright. But then, finally, we found a lifeline. Three minutes into six added at the end of the game, Harvey White delivered his third corner in quick succession, it sailed over Luis Binks in the centre of the six-yard box but was converted at the back post by Bennett.
Four minutes into the resulting period of extra time and we'd turned the tie on its head. Parrott committed the keeper as he invaded the box on our right-hand side and squared for Richards to roll into the empty net. Taylor forced a save from Oluwayemi soon afterwards but Millwall were out on their feet by that stage and we had a handful of opportunities to extend our lead, only for Maurizio Pochettino and Markanday to be denied by Wright.
When Duncan limped off five minutes from time, Millwall lost some presence in central midfield. Thankfully, our fitness told as our players still had the energy in their legs to mount a comeback and the goal that turned the tide finally arrived in the third of six added minutes at the end of the 90.
Bennett was on hand at the back post to steer in White's corner, finally giving us a breakthrough and, with momentum on our side, allowing us to push on and win.
Under-18s Coach Matt Wells was disappointed with the way the initial 90 minutes played out: “It sometimes happens in the FA Youth Cup,” he said. “We’ve participated in some massive games in the Checkatrade Trophy, the UEFA Youth League and the Under-18 Premier League but for some reason tonight, things got the better of us. I’ve seen a lot of these FA Youth Cup third round ties and they often look like the game did tonight. There’s something about this tournament that resonates with the players and I felt that nerves got the better of some of the boys, but we’ll be better for this experience.
“In the first half we didn’t manage the emotion of the game, we looked mentally jaded and we missed a couple of chances. It was a game of many momentum swings and certainly their goal was a fantastic strike, but I could sense it coming. They hadn’t created many good chances but I felt their style was winning over our style and that was very disappointing in the first half. Millwall were a threat on set-pieces all night but generally we stood up to those well, although as the game went on, with the substitutions, we had to throw caution to the wind and that produces a certain type of game where it’s always end-to-end, but we forced the equaliser and, to be honest, in terms of the mentality of the group, you can never really doubt the players. Even in stoppage time we’re capable of scoring and obviously J’Neil gave us that off the bench.”
Matt also singled out striker Parrott for praise: “In terms of the level of performance that we’re looking for, I said to Troy afterwards that without him on the pitch tonight, we’d probably have been dumped out. He was outstanding with the presence with which he played. Aside from that, it was a disappointing evening in terms of individuals and in terms of the performance.”
Millwall 1-2 Spurs (AET)
Millwall: Wright, West, Tiensia, B Mitchell (c), Muller (Abdulmalik 98), Topalloj, Skeffington, Duncan (Barton 85), Alexander (A Mitchell 97), Taylor, Davis (O'Brien 105). Substitute (not used): Fanshawe.
Spurs: Oluwayemi, Statham (Bennett 54), Cirkin, White, Lyons-Foster (Tainio 85), Binks, Markanday, A Shashoua (c, Pochettino 78), Parrott, Maghoma, Richards (Okedina 105). Substitute (not used): Kurylowicz.
Goals: Millwall - B Mitchell 34; Spurs - Bennett 90+3, Richards 94.
Yellow cards: Millwall - West 34, Muller 77, Alexander 78, Tiensia 90+2, Barton 108; Spurs - A Shashoua 11, Binks 67, Maghoma 109, Tainio 120+3.
Referee: Ricky Adams.
Venue: The Den.
Weather: Light cloud, nine degrees.