Under-18s slump to final-day Leicester loss
Spurs 3-4 Leicester (Under-18 Premier League)
Sat 27 April 2019, 14:05|Tottenham Hotspur
A positive league season for our Under-18s ended on a flat note as we let slip a 3-1 lead to suffer only our second defeat of the whole campaign at home to Leicester City on Saturday.
We’d gone into the final-day clash with an outside chance of winning the Under-18 Premier League southern division, requiring victory against the Foxes and needing leaders Arsenal to drop points at Fulham in the slightly earlier kick-off if we were to take the crown.
And things seemed to be going well as we outplayed our visitors at Hotspur Way and built up a 3-1 half-time lead thanks to a brace from the returning Rodel Richards and a close-range finish from J’Neil Bennett. But with Arsenal scoring three times in the last 14 minutes to wrap up a 3-0 win against the Cottagers, we went out for the second half playing for pride and looking to run our rivals all the way, only to lose our grip on the contest and allow Leicester to escape as 4-3 winners.
The result means we finish second in the final standings, four points behind the Gunners. Like us, they lost only two games all season, but we drew two of our remaining 20 matches whereas they won all of theirs. We also scored a staggering 81 goals, conceding 26 – certainly an impressive campaign for our young starlets as attentions now turn to Monday’s important Premier League 2 clash with Derby County and the subsequent end-of-season overseas tournaments.
In spite of the final numbers, the manner of the defeat to Leicester was particularly disappointing in view of the dominant fashion in which we’d started the game. Striker Richards, back after more than three months out through injury, applied a great first-time finish to convert Rayan Clarke’s right-wing cross just 12 minutes in, before Bennett swept home amid a congested six-yard box seven minutes later after Malachi Walcott’s shot-on-the-turn at the back post from Phoenix Patterson’s wide free-kick had been blocked.
Leicester striker Will Russ bustled his way past Walcott at the other end and won a penalty off the defender which Dempsey Arlott-John converted on 23 minutes but we always looked dangerous going forward and duly restored our two-goal lead eight minutes before the break with a slick move, Patterson playing forward through the middle for Paris Maghoma, who rolled Richards in behind to round goalkeeper Oliver Bosworth and slot home.
Richards could have had a hat-trick shortly after the interval but hit the base of the near post from another useful Clarke delivery while Bennett lashed into the side netting but, as the blustery conditions really whipped up, Leicester found their second wind and kick-started their comeback as substitute Adam Leathers worked the ball to Ethan Fitzhugh in the box on the left, his shot squirming beyond the body of goalkeeper Kacper Kurylowicz for 3-2 on 58 minutes. Kurylowicz was then penalised for a challenge on striker Russ as he latched onto a long ball over the top, leading to a second penalty for the Foxes which Ed Elewa-Ipakwu converted – all square on 64 minutes.
We were struggling to produce the same free-flowing attacking football as in the first half with Patterson rattling the crossbar from distance but when Elewa-Ipakwu went bursting down the right flank once more, his raking cross was expertly finished across Kurylowicz by Fitzhugh to give Leicester a 70th-minute lead. Ollie Ewing’s subsequent header from a corner hit the top of the bar while we tried to force a leveller in stoppage time, but Bennett was flagged off-side as he converted Patterson’s free-kick at the back post, before Bosworth somehow denied substitute Dennis Cirkin at his near post a minute later.
We’d been in control for much of the first half, but when Fitzhugh scored for Leicester to make it 3-2 just before the hour mark, the momentum of the game turned. Kurylowicz, who later did well to deny the Foxes’ number 10 a hat-trick, will have been disappointed not to have kept his angled shot out after the visitors worked the ball across the edge of the box from right to left but, with the men in blue up and running, it was the beginning of the end for us.
Head of Academy Coaching and Player Development John McDermott said: “The manner in which we finished the last 45 minutes of the season and the reasons behind our lack of second-half drive leave an unpleasant taste in our mouths, losing the half 3-0 after such a positive first-half performance. But credit to Leicester for their ability to keep going and earn their victory and also congratulations to Arsenal who won the league this afternoon at Fulham. Today is probably the wrong time to put the season and the players’ progress into a true context – we’ll do that in due course.”
Spurs 3-4 Leicester (Under-18 Premier League)
Spurs: Kurylowicz, Okedina, Statham (Cirkin 65), A Shashoua (c), Walcott, Binks, Clarke (Thorpe 83), Patterson, Richards (Pochettino 69), Maghoma, Bennett. Substitute (not used): Lo-Tutala.