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#U21 #PL2 #MatchReport #Middlesbrough

Under-21s end winless spell at the Riverside

Middlesbrough 1-2 Spurs (Premier League 2)

Sun 17 March 2024, 15:10|Tottenham Hotspur

Substitute Damola Ajayi struck two minutes from time to restore our Under-21s to winning ways with a 2-1 triumph over Middlesbrough at the Riverside on Sunday afternoon.

Leading early through Will Lankshear, we played some neat football at times but never really hit top gear against the resilient hosts, with George Gitau's equaliser in first-half stoppage time getting Boro back on level terms.

Both goalkeepers made some fine saves but with the clock ticking down, Ajayi lashed into the top corner to give us our first win in four Premier League 2 matches - after we'd won every game in the division up until the start of last month - and return us to the top of the table.

We welcomed influential central defender Alfie Dorrington back from injury - his most recent league appearance in January coincided with our last victory in the division - but it was at the other end where the early action was, Jamie Donley winning a challenge 25 yards out and in doing so sweeping the ball through for Lankshear to finish clinically from the right angle inside the box with just over two minutes gone.

Sonny Finch and Yacou Traore threatened for the hosts as they tried to wrestle back control of the game before a couple of good chances for us went to waste around the half-hour mark. First, another fine through ball from Donley put Nile John in on goal, but his first touch was slightly too heavy and by the time he got a shot away, he was too close to goalkeeper Shea Connor who made the save, before we again went close with a slick team move that started with a nutmeg from Max McKnight and ended with Lankshear backheeling into the path of the impressive Tyrese Hall, who was also denied by the keeper.

Ajay Matthews was inches away from connecting with a cross in the middle of the box at the other end while Hall finished off a driving run through the heart of the Boro midfield with a fierce shot which Connor saved, with the keeper then denying Lankshear on the follow-up.

Luca Gunter proved equally solid at the other end, superbly tipping Pharrell Willis' shot onto the woodwork before pulling off a diving save away to his right to keep out Traore's attempt a few minutes later. But he was powerless to prevent Gitau from blasting home the equaliser in first-half stoppaage time as we failed to cut out an attack from Boro's left and the ball broke for the full-back six yards out.

It was turning into a tale of both goalkeepers frustrating their opponents as we moved into the second half as Gunter blocked Finch's angled drive with his feet before Connor superbly denied John after Lankshear had knocked down Donley's cross into his path just beyond the hour mark, with Boro defender Jack Hannah accidentally diverting Donley's cross against his own crossbar a few minutes later as we continued to probe.

Yago Santiago fired over before Gunter made a crucial save 11 minutes from time, making himself big as he advanced to close down and block from substitute Sam Collins, who was clean through on goal in the left channel - how decisive that would prove to be, as we went on to snatch the winner two minutes from time. Following a quickly-taken corner, Santiago's low ball into the danger zone from the left was blocked, Rio Kyerematen got to the loose ball first and managed to work it to Ajayi, who saw his chance and lashed a first-time, left-footed shot high inside the near post via a slight deflection. Boro tried to respond, Gunter keeping out Finch's angled shot at the back post before making another big block from Luke Woolston moments later, with substitute Oliver Samuels seeing his follow-up shot blocked by the defence as we saw out the win.

Reaction on SPURSPLAY

'We haven't performed to the levels that we're capable of'

Despite the result, Under-21s Coach Wayne Burnett was disappointed with aspects of the performance, telling SPURSPLAY: "I didn't think we played particularly well, we lacked some quality and kept turning the ball over to the opposition - it's disappointing that it wasn't really 'us' today. We were playing against a good Middlesbrough team, they've got some good players but when you turn the ball over you give the opposition some momentum and we didn't sustain our attacks at times. We got into some really good positions in the final third but didn't capitalise and that was disappointing. We're not disappointed to win the game - of course we're not - but I spoke to the players and it's about us playing our way, being consistent and doing the things that we're good at, and we didn't do that today. I think the players know that as well, that we haven't performed to the levels that we're capable of."

Middlesbrough 1-2 Spurs (Premier League 2)

Middlesbrough: Connor, Gitau (Whelan 86), McCormick, Traore (Samuels 65), Hannah (c), Woolston, Bridge, McCabe, Matthews, Finch, Willis (Collins 65). Substitutes (not used): Metcalfe, Lindo.

Spurs: Gunter, Abbott (c), McKnight, Cassanova, Dorrington (Ashcroft 70), Hall, Soonsup-Bell (Ajayi 70), John (Kyerematen 76), Lankshear, Donley, Santiago. Substitutes (not used): Maguire, Robson.

Match data

Goals: Middlesbrough - Gitau 45+2; Spurs - Lankshear 3, Ajayi 88.

Yellow cards: Middlesbrough - Bridge 74, Hannah 80, Whelan 87, Finch 90.

Referee: Stuart Morland.

Venue: Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough.

Weather: Light rain at times, gentle breeze, 13 degrees.

Attendance: 265.