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Under-18s stage stunning comeback to beat Stoke

Spurs 3-2 Stoke (Under-18 Premier League Cup)

Sat 26 October 2019, 14:40|Tottenham Hotspur

Three second-half goals saw our youngsters fight back from 2-0 down to beat Stoke City 3-2 in the Under-18 Premier League Cup at a windy Hotspur Way on Saturday.

Trailing at half-time to Dan Malone’s penalty, we conceded again less than two minutes into the second period after a good touch and finish from striker Mohamed Sankoh.

But the determined Rafferty Pedder, often a threat, kick-started the comeback on 54 minutes before Tarrelle Whittaker levelled it up from the spot on 72 minutes after a foul on the impressive Dennis Cirkin. Max Robson completed the turnaround three minutes later as we put our first points on the board in the group stage of the competition after two games, with one more match at Newcastle United still to come next month.

Taking on Stoke at Under-18 level for only the second time in six years – Oliver Skipp and Brandon Austin, the latter named on the bench in the Champions League this week, were in the side when we last met in March, 2017 – we started brightly with Pedder narrowly missing the target twice. But when goalkeeper Thimothee Lo-Tutala, so impressive on his full debut at Arsenal last weekend, was caught in possession by Sankoh and was adjudged to have fouled him, Malone took advantage from the spot to give the visitors an 11th-minute lead.

Cirkin was pushing forward from left-back with authority and created a couple of half-chances, but we couldn’t meaningfully test Stoke goalkeeper Paul Cooper for the remainder of the first half. And we were punished two minutes after the restart when Sankoh brought a long ball under his spell with a good first touch before running on and slotting home to double his side’s advantage.

I was just really pleased that we managed to come back, win the game and finish off a good week for the majority of the Under-18s players.

Under-18s Coach Matt Taylor

However, knowing a second successive defeat would surely have eliminated us from the competition, we weren’t to be denied. Kallum Cesay played forward to Yago Santiago on the edge of the area and he laid the ball in for Pedder to chop back onto his right foot and score from the left angle to get us up and running at 2-1. The midfielder might have scored again moments later, but Cooper somehow clawed his shot away as it curled towards the top corner.

We were level with 18 minutes remaining as substitute J’Neil Bennett sent Cirkin forward into the area, he was upended and striker Whittaker fired the resulting penalty high into the net. And after Bennett’s shot was deflected over, the comeback was complete with a quarter-of-an-hour left as Romaine Mundle’s corner was punched by Cooper as far as Robson, who didn’t need a second invitation to volley home from outside the box.

The swirling wind was becoming more of a factor but Nile John continued to boss the midfield areas, although Stoke weren’t going away and Lo-Tutala held Tom Nixon’s header well from a corner. Whittaker and Bennett could have finished the visitors off but saw their chances slip away and we needed three superb defensive actions from Marqes Muir in the closing stages to see out the win.

Key moment

Under-18s Coach Matt Taylor was preparing a double change when Pedder fired us back into the contest. It was a key goal from the midfielder, ensuring Stoke weren’t 2-0 up for long and giving us a platform on which to build our comeback.

Even after the goal had gone in, Taylor pressed ahead with his substitutions, introducing Bennett and Robson straight away. They, along with subsequent third sub Mundle, all contributed to a spirited fightback.

Coach’s view

Matt Taylor told us afterwards: “I was really pleased that, for the second week in a row, we’ve managed to overturn a 2-0 scoreline. Last week at Arsenal we came back and drew and then this week we went ahead and won. I told the players at half-time that I fully expected them to go on and win the game. We had a setback conceding early in the second half but I thought we were deserved of the three points. It was a passionate performance again, which really pleased me. When we went 2-0 down, we were positive in our approach and we ended up being worthy winners. Now it’s a challenge for the players to keep the levels of consistency high. I was just really pleased that we managed to come back, win the game and finish off a good week for the majority of the Under-18s players.”

Asked about the importance of the result in terms of staying in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage of the competition, Matt said: “We spoke about it at the end of the game – it’s a competition that I want us to do well in so it was important that we won the game so we’re still in with an opportunity at progressing from the group. That was the aim from the outset and it still remains so.”

Spurs 3-2 Stoke (Under-18 Premier League Cup)

Spurs: Lo-Tutala, Lusala, Cirkin, Cesay, Muir (c), Skinner (Tr), Cooper (Bennett 54), John, Whittaker, Santiago (Robson 54), Pedder (Mundle 73). Substitute (not used): Kurylowicz.