Under-18s win enthralling north London derby
Spurs 3-2 Arsenal (Under-18 Premier League)
Sat 24 November 2018, 13:11|Tottenham Hotspur
Goalkeeper Josh Oluwayemi saved two penalties to help our Under-18s claim victory in the north London derby and leapfrog Arsenal to go back to the top of the league on Saturday.
In an all-action second-v-first encounter with the Gunners at Hotspur Way, our unbeaten youngsters fell behind early on but roared back to lead 3-1 thanks to goals from Jubril Okedina, Rayan Clarke and Harvey White.
Oluwayemi, who had worked hard to be fit to start after shaking off a slight injury in the week, denied Arsenal skipper Matt Smith an equaliser at 2-1 before saving again from Sam Greenwood’s spot kick with four minutes to go. Equally impressive was the fact that he managed to hold onto the ball both times to prevent our opponents from converting any rebounds. We’d earlier hit the woodwork twice through the hard-working duo of Troy Parrott and White, while captain Armando Shashoua was left kicking himself for not putting away a golden chance to kill off the visitors at 3-1.
Coach Matt Wells was missing a couple of his regular starters through injury and after Fol Balogun turned in the box and lashed in off the underside of the bar with just two minutes gone, the situation wasn’t helped when one of our main attacking threats, left winger J’Neil Bennett, was clattered into by a defender and, despite briefly coming back into the action, was unable to continue. Clarke, who had started the game deputising at right-back, was restored to his more familiar attacking role in Bennett’s place and would play a key part as the game went on.
Midfielder Chay Cooper, enjoying his first start, fired over and Parrott hit a first-time shot against the post as we showed our attacking intent with some aggressive pressing throughout the remainder of the opening 45 minutes, while Clarke was denied what looked like a certain goal when Arsenal centre-half Bayli Spencer-Adams hurled himself in the way of his fierce strike from inside the area just after the half-hour mark.
Our pressure told on 42 minutes when Clarke was fouled down our left flank, White sent the free-kick into the box and defender Okedina rose to head in his first goal at this level.
Set-piece specialist White hit the crossbar with another free-kick just after half-time but we were soon deservedly ahead. It all started when defender Luis Binks won a vital tackle just inside our half, with the ball eventually falling to Jeremie Mukendi who found Clarke on the left. He cut in and curled beyond goalkeeper Karl Hein with 54 minutes played. Just over two minutes later, the Gunners found a lifeline as Oluwayemi brought down Balogun in the box, but the keeper redeemed himself by diving low to his right to thwart Smith from the spot.
Dilan Markanday was impressive throughout in holding onto possession and driving forward and after he was upended 30 yards from goal on the right, White’s free-kick sailed in at the far post to extend our lead mid-way through the second half. Binks might have got a touch with a glancing header in the box but White was credited with the goal. Shashoua then had a golden chance to wrap it up when a loose ball fell to him in the box, but Hein saved his shot.
Arsenal pulled a goal back on 77 minutes when Balogun’s deflected shot squirmed in at the near post before substitute Matthew Dennis had an attempt ruled out for off-side. We weren’t at our free-flowing best by that stage and we had Oluwayemi to thank for keeping us ahead on 86 minutes. Binks was penalised for contact with Balogun as he sped into the box but Oluwayemi this time saved down to his left from Greenwood, earning a grateful hug from Binks for his troubles! Centre-forward Parrott was key in the latter stages, holding the ball up well and staying alert as we saw out six minutes of stoppage time to emerge victorious from a pulsating derby.
Oluwayemi’s second penalty save of the match proved crucial. It came in the 86th minute with Arsenal pushing for an equaliser, but our goalkeeper had the answer to keep us in front at an important stage in the game.
Balogun had turned on the pace to burst through into the box, but Binks was penalised as he stayed on his coat-tails, earning a yellow card. Thankfully, Oluwayemi got him and the rest of the team out of jail.
“What makes it more impressive is that he’s come off of a period of very little training,” explained coach Matt Wells. “He’s only returned from his injury in the last couple of days but he’s shown a really good mentality and focus in his work and a lot of determination to get fit for this game. He’s reaped his rewards with two really big saves from the penalty spot so I’m pleased for him.”
Matt was pleased with the attitude and application of his players as they recovered from conceding early to win such an important game.
“I thought we were really good in the first half,” he said. “I was disappointed, of course, with their opening goal because it’s been a lot of games now where we’ve conceded first. What it is highlighting, though, is what a fantastic mentality we’ve got as a group because in all of those games where we’ve conceded first, we’ve come back and never lost. From there, the mentality and the composure that we showed to stick to our principles and trust that they would get us back in the game was very good.
“The goal before half-time was massive for us and gave us that little bit of extra confidence at half-time. In the second half we started well, we should have gone 4-1 up which would have put the game to bed but against a team like Arsenal, even a two-goal cushion sometimes is not enough. It was a poor goal from our point of view for 3-2 and we ended up backs-to-the-wall a little bit in the last 10 minutes, but the boys hung in there well.
“I was really impressed with the way all the boys played. Speaking about Rayan Clarke, he started the game out of position at right-back and I thought he was a real threat there, but when J’Neil got injured, we knew how effective he can be off the left so we moved him from right-back to the left-wing. Jeremie Mukendi came on at right-back and he did a really good job too – across the course of the game he ended up playing three or four different positions but that’s where we are in terms of bodies at the moment. We’ve got a lot of players up with the Under-23s which is great, but there have been a couple of injuries as well so I’m really proud of the players. It was a little bit disjointed in the second half because of the amount of players we had playing out of position but the mentality and the attitude was superb.”
Spurs 3-2 Arsenal (Under-18 Premier League)
Spurs: Oluwayemi, Clarke, Cirkin, White, Okedina, Binks, Markanday (Statham 90), A Shashoua (c), Parrott, Cooper (Pochettino 81), Bennett (Mukendi 19). Substitutes (not used): Kurylowicz, Thorpe.