Roles' treble secures final-day Premier League 2 survival
Spurs 3-1 Derby County (Premier League 2)
Mon 29 April 2019, 21:04|Tottenham Hotspur
Jack Roles scored a perfect hat-trick against Derby County to secure our Under-23s' Premier League 2 survival on the last day of the season.
The midfielder lashed home on his left foot to cap a lively start inside seven minutes at Stevenage on Monday night before heading in for 2-1 in first-half stoppage time following Cameron Cresswell's equaliser for the visitors.
It was a tense second half, albeit without many clear-cut chances, but when substitute striker Rodel Richards cut back for Roles nine minutes from time, the man of the moment hammered home on his right foot to complete a 3-1 victory, which ensured we remained above West Ham - who won 2-1 at home to Premier League 2 champions Everton - and, crucially, two points outside the relegation zone. We also leapfrogged Leicester on the night to ultimately finish ninth out of 12.
We'd gone into the game needing to match the Hammers' result, with survival back in our own hands after an equally-important 2-1 win at Swansea a fortnight ago. Young striker Troy Parrott was the hero that night, but he was carried off in the second half this time around as Roles instead took centre stage. Parrott had been one of five Under-18 players in the starting XI as Wayne Burnett made just one change to the team that won in South Wales, Tashan Oakley-Boothe starting in midfield in place of George Marsh.
We deserved our 2-1 half-time lead after a hard-working performance. Central midfielder Jamie Bowden picked out Roles with a neat cross-field pass and the midfielder pulled the ball down brilliantly before firing high inside the near post from the left angle to give us a seventh-minute advantage and, although Josh Shonibare shot over the bar in a good chance for Derby, we remained in relative control, Parrott going close on a couple of occasions including a deft flick over goalkeeper Henrich Ravas which, unfortunately for the striker, also cleared the crossbar.
The Rams stunned us with an equaliser just after the half-hour mark as Sven Karic, on for the injured Ikechi Anya, delivered a cross from the left wing which Cresswell powered home at the near post, but we regained the lead with a header of our own just before the break, right-back Tariq Hinds' searching cross nodded into the top corner by Roles at the far stick.
It was a tense second half for the most part as we carried a narrow lead forward, with chances few and far between for either side. Timi Elsnik whistled a shot fractionally past the post for Derby while defender Brooklyn Lyons-Foster made a vital block from Shonibare inside the area with time ticking away. His centre-back partner Japhet Tanganga was popping up in different areas to man the barricades too. Then, with 81 minutes on the watch, came an important goal to put daylight between the teams. With Parrott off injured, his replacement Richards went through on goal in the left channel but unselfishly set the ball back for Roles to blast low beyond Ravas as he arrived late in the box. We defended deep thereafter through eight minutes of stoppage time, partly due to the Parrott injury, but the closest Derby went was right at the end when Shonibare's rasping effort struck the underside of the crossbar and Morgan Whittaker's shot on the follow-up was saved by Brandon Austin.
They say it's a great time to score just before half-time – and that rang true in this game. Derby's equaliser was a real setback for us but we responded positively and when Hinds launched a searching cross towards the back post from deep on the right flank in the first minute of time added on at the end of the first period, Roles popped up to head in and make it 2-1, giving us the initiative to go on and win the points needed to ensure survival.
Under-23s Coach Wayne Burnett was pleased with his charges for getting themselves over the line with a good performance on the night and praised Roles for his hat-trick, but underlined his frustration that we'd found ourselves battling to stay afloat in the division in the first place after a season of ups and downs.
"I thought we were very good in the first half, dominated the ball but lacked a little bit of quality with our final delivery," he said. "We deserved to come in slightly in front but we went out in the second half and didn't really get the same control, although we managed to get another goal to make it 3-1 and then we defended a bit too deep towards the end, which was understandable when we knew the importance of the result. We got a little bit nervous but we saw it out and we defended well. The thing that's most pleasing for me is that we had a lot of young players in our team who would have gained a lot of experience from tonight.
"Jack Roles has an ability to be in the right place and he's a cool finisher, but I'm really pleased for him because of how hard he worked in and out of possession. He's scored three very well-taken goals but that's Jack, he wants to score goals. I'm pleased for the team – it wasn't a one-man show. We spoke before Swansea and again tonight and said that we have to find a way to win and we did that. We agreed that we can't be in this position again – we need to be fighting to win the league rather than fighting to stave off relegation. That's not acceptable from a Club point of view. We can be pleased about tonight and enjoy it, but we all know that we have to make sure that this scenario doesn't keep happening in the future."
Roles himself added: "Everyone knew it was vitally important to stay up. It would be terrible for us all if we went down and none of us wanted to have that on our CV so we're really happy in the end. We all know that the standards weren't met at times this season and we're determined to be in a better position going forward. I think the early goal helped us, it settled the nerves but we were confident that if we played our game and worked harder than them, we'd come away with the three points. It felt really good to get the hat-trick, it was a great assist from RJ (Richards) for the third one. I thought he was going to go himself because he's a striker but he found me and I couldn't miss!"
Spurs 3-1 Derby County (Premier League 2)
Spurs: Austin, Hinds, White, Oakley-Boothe, Tanganga (c), Lyons-Foster, Markanday (Cirkin 85), Bowden, Parrott (Richards 75), Roles, Tracey (Patterson 90+5). Substitutes (not used): Kurylowicz, Dinzeyi.
Derby County: Ravas, Gordon, Anya (Karic 17), Bateman (c), Wassall, Hunt, Wilson (Bird 67), Elsnik, Cresswell (Whittaker 80), Babos, Shonibare. Substitutes (not used): Yates, Knight.
Goals: Spurs - Roles 7, 45+1, 81; Derby - Cresswell 31.
Yellow cards: Spurs - Tracey 66; Derby - Bateman 71.
Referee: Christopher Pollard.
Venue: Lamex Stadium, Stevenage.
Weather: Bright, partly cloudy, 12 degrees.