Report: Blues Under-18s 1-5 Blackburn Rovers Under-18s
Blues Under-18s were knocked out of the FA Youth Cup by Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday night.
Martyn Olorenshaw’s side battled bravely at St. Andrew’s but succumbed to the runaway leaders of the Premier League North who showcased their quality throughout the tie.
A Rico Browne own goal and a Charlie Weston header helped the visitors race into a two-goal lead inside the first fifteen minutes.
Blues composed themselves before the break and reduced the arrears thanks to a superbly executed free-kick by Harry Manton.
But further strikes from George Pratt, Jake Batty and Harry Leonard put the game beyond Blues as Rovers cruised into the fourth round.
It was almost the perfect start for the hosts. Having clocked up a number of passes from the kick-off, Rico Browne sprayed a long ball downfield to release Kieran Wakefield. A regular in the Under-23s side, Wakefield raced clear of the opposition backline and steadied himself before seeing his low effort cannon off the outstretched leg of Felix Goddard.
It was just the opening Martyn Olorenshaw would have hoped for and nobody else he would have wanted on the end of it.
However, Rovers recovered from the early scare and began to apply some pressure of their own, forcing Blues into errors. Browne, so often an accomplished and confident ball-playing defender, sent a wayward pass straight to Harrison Wood and the visitors immediately set about punishing the mistake.
Wood darted towards goal and with only Alfie Brooks left to beat, elected to square the ball towards a teammate. The retreating Browne was motoring back towards goal in a bid to atone for his error and in doing so inadvertently deflected the ball into his own net.
Before Blues could compose themselves, Rovers added a second. Ryan Kidd’s side were finding pockets of space in behind the Blues backline and, on this occasion, it was Harry Leonard who beat the offside trap to send a scuffed effort towards goal. Brooks was equal to it but whilst still on the ground, Charlie Weston had the simplest of tasks to head a bouncing ball into the empty net.
Whilst the quickfire goals rocked Blues, it did not floor them. Much of their early work was undertaken in a defensive capacity but mid-way through the first-half, they showed their own creative quality.
A week after signing his first professional contract, George Hall combined neatly with Jobe Bellingham inside the Blackburn box. As Goddard threw himself at the ball, Hall lifted it beyond the onrushing ‘keeper but saw his effort cleared off the line. Josh Home looked to finish off the move at the second attempt but his fierce drive was headed clear.
The move seemed to breathe life into the Blues youngsters and with their very next attack, the deficit was reduced. When the lively Hall was upended 25-yards out, without hesitation, the ball was handed to Manton. The tenacious wing-back stepped up and whipped the ball into the top corner before proudly kissing the Blues badge on his chest.
By this time Blues had firmly found their feet, though they had to survive a penalty appeal before half-time when Alfie Brooks pounced at the feet of Leonard who was sent tumbling by the contact.
Blues emerged with a renewed vigour for the second period and set about dictating the tempo of the contest. But just as the hosts were forcing the issue, it was Blackburn who landed a killer blow with their third goal of the evening.
Pratt rose highest to meet an inviting corner with a thumping header, sending the ball beyond Brooks to restore the Lancashire side’s two-goal lead.
Blues tried to steady themselves, as they had done after conceding in the opening half, but Rovers quality, which has seen them rise above both Manchester sides to the summit of the PL North, often proved too difficult to repel.
A neat combination of one-touch football around halfway released the combative Batty. With space to exploit and the hosts short of defenders, the flying wing-back galloped into the box and drilled the ball low into the corner of the net to put the game beyond all doubt.
A defensive mix-up on the hour mark presented Rovers with an opportunity for a fifth. Fogarty and Brooks collided on the edge of the box but Wood could only crash his effort off the face of the crossbar with the empty net at his mercy.
The dangerous Leonard poured gloss on the scoreline with a superb strike late on as Blues now turn their attentions back to league matters and a derby with West Bromwich Albion this Saturday.
Blues: Brooks, Sullivan, Manton, Fogarty, Barratt (Nguepissi 65), Home (Khela 65), Hall, Browne, Wakefield, Patterson, Bellingham
Substitutes not used: Mayo, Oni, Ogor, Williams, Rushton
Blackburn Rovers: Goddard, Haddow, Batty, Pratt, Gamble, Olson, Weston (Edmundson 88), Wharton, Leonard, Caddick (Cunningham 73), Wood (O’Grady-Macken 81)
Substitutes not used: Duru, Blease, Chmiel, Montgomery,