Report: Blues Under-23s 1-1 Stoke City Under-23s
Blues were made to settle for a share of the spoils on Friday night after Owen Humphries saw his second-half opener cancelled out by a late Stoke leveller.
The trialist had put Blues on course for their first win since November when he broke the deadlock with a low drive, but the visitors hit back late on through an expertly taken free-kick by Edward Jones.
The result, a third straight draw for Steve Spooner’s side, was harsh on the hosts who controlled large parts of the second period and created further chances to decide the game.
Nonetheless, it is another welcome point for Blues who have seen many of their players promoted to the First Team squad in recent weeks.
Humphries, deployed as an advanced midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 set-up, was on the front foot from the first whistle, winning the ball inside Stoke territory and setting the tone for his side. With support to his left and right he found Kyle Hurst inside the box but he could only sting the palms of Nathan Broome with a fierce drive.
Having experience early joy, Spooner’s side continued to put pressure on the young Potters backline. In fact, both sides made concerted efforts in during the opening exchanges to push up the pitch and force their opponents into errors.
Though far from a faultless footballing contest, both sides insisted on playing their way up the pitch, and it was often met with applause from their respective dugout.
Rico Browne’s under-hit back pass momentarily had hearts in mouths whilst his downward header at the other end came close to open the scoring with a quarter of the game gone.
With notable goalmouth action at a premium, Alfie Brooks was called into action for the first time in the game and how he answered the call.
Stoke quickly shifted the ball across the pitch where Patrick Jarrett had ample time to set himself and send a low drive towards goal. After seeing the ball cannon off the base of the post, Brooks quickly rose to his feet and instinctively flung his left boot at Christian Norton’s rebound to deny a sure-fire opener.
Another save swiftly followed but despite Brooks heroics it was Blues who ended the half with a flurry of chances.
Hurst thought he had evaded the offside trap but was denied by both a late flag and Broome’s smart handling. That before Browne burst down the middle of the pitch and took aim from distance. There was time for Humphries to send a curling effort off the top of the crossbar but neither side managed to break the deadlock in what was a competitive first period.
A quicker tempo was injected into the contest after the break and both sides had opportunities to open the scoring.
Potters captain, Adam Porter, followed up Oakley-Booth’s effort from 12-yards-out but crashed into Browne who went to ground to make a last-ditch block.
Next, it was Blues turn to threaten, again through lively ball-carrier, Hurst. After cutting in off left the tricky wideman couldn’t find a way past Broome with another solid strike. Blues would soon revisit that avenue of attack and yield better results.
Having replaced Colin Oppong at the break, Leo Dos Reis’ set about stamping his mark on the game. A few early touches helped the Spaniard ease his way in and soon after his pass would finally unlock the Stoke City defence.
Dos Reis opened the play to the left flank where Humphries was allowed to loiter undetected. The Blues trialist shifted the ball onto his right foot and sent a low effort inside the far post.
Oriol Soldevila was inches away from added a second moments later but saw his rasping effort fly narrowly wide with the aid of a slight deflection. The confidence was flowing through Spooner’s men, and by the 70th minute, Stoke were penned inside their own half.
A warning shot ensued. Second half-substitute Josh Home was robbed on the edge of the Blues box, but Norton failed to capitalise, instead lashing wildly through the ball and into the Tilton Road end.
Blues recovered from the momentary lapse and carved out a flowing move of their own, started by Josh Williams and involving a quartet of attacking players. It was a move befitting of a winning goal but when Ogor’s pull back found instigator Williams, he dragged his effort wide.
Despite being on the back foot for much of the second period, Stoke sent another raid up field and were presented with a promising free-kick on the edge of the Blues box. Up stepped full-back Edward Jones, who with a swing of his left boot, placed the ball expertly over the wall and into the top corner.
It was a hammer blow for Blues who had been in a control since the interval.
Buyoyed by their equaliser, the visitors pressed forward in added time and Brooks was at full stretch to tip Tom Curl’s strike past the post and preserve a hard-earned point.
Blues: Archie Matthews, Josh Williams, Chris Ogor, Brandon Khela, Rico Browne, Tommy Fogarty, Kyle Hurst, Remi Walker (C) (Josh Home 62), Colin Oppong (Leo Dos Reis 45), Owen Humphries, Oriel Soldevila.
Unused Substitutes: Archie Matthews, Keke Simmonds, , Luke Carsley
Goalscorer: Humphries 52
Stoke City: Nathan Broome, Tom Curl, Edward Jones, Kieran Coates, George Lewis, Matthew Baker, Daniel Malone, Adam Porter, Christian Norton, Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Patrick Jarrett.
Unused Substitutes: Samuel Knowles, Robbie Hemfrey, Joshua Roney, Jack Griffiths, Max McCarthy
Goalscorer: Jones 83