The Imps Under 18s side progressed to the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup in dramatic fashion, with a late goal killing off Championship side Preston North End at Deepdale.
The tie looked to be heading for penalties, despite a spirited performance by the young Imps against an able Championship-level opponent. The Imps worked hard in a first half of few chances, Javon Makama firing over in probably the best chance of the half for us. In reply, Preston had a great opportunity to take the lead just before half time, with a tremendous Sam Long double save indicating why he has recently been promoted to number two, with Ethan Ross going out on loan.
Played on the famous Deepdale pitch, the tie ebbed and flowed nicely in the second period. Rodwell_grant looked dangerous for the home side, he flashed an effort wide on the hour mark, whilst Nathan Odokonyero fired a Billy Brooks pass at the Preston keeper, who parried and claimed. Brooks certainly looked a creative force during the encounter too
Ten minutes from time, the Imps had a decent effort fly over the bar from Ben Sault, but he made amends not long after with a wonderful assist. he threaded a 25-yard pass through the Preston defence to release Freddie Draper. He took the ball confidently in his stride and finished with aplomb to the keeper’s left. He powered away into the corner and looked a little ashamed when he knocked the flag off the corner post, but it mattered not. It proved to be the only goal of the game and ensured a visit from another Championship side, Watford, in the next round.
I watched most of the game live on YouTube and was thoroughly impressed with a couple of the youngsters. Hayden Tear was one who caught the eye for me, with Sault’s pass as good as almost anything you’ll see from the first team this season. Makama worked hard up top, as did Draper, whilst centre half Jasper Tetlow also put his body on the line, especially in the latter stages of the game.
I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time we have progressed beyond the third round. I know in previous years we’ve lost to Man Utd and West Brom in the third round, so it is a huge achievement for the Imps academy and further proof that the coaches are doing a great job. Indeed, that West Brom side that beat us 5-1 had Jamie Soule in (he bagged twice), Morgan Rogers (he scored too) and Louie Barry who later moved to Barcelona. That’s the level, these players need to be at and in losing 2-0 to Man Utd last season, they went out to a side then ended up as beaten semi-finalists. Still, both those achievements have now been bettered by a vibrant and yet dogged and resilient Imps side.
I was particularly impressed with the cohesion they showed in possession, and the fighting spirit without the ball. Even as the final seconds wore down, Preston went to take a quick corner and one of our lads had the energy to sprint and stop the danger. When the final whistle blew one lad just fell on his back in the centre circle, exhausted but doubtless overjoyed at what is a huge win.
I want to end with a cheesy line like ‘the future’s bright’, or something, but we know that. Three of the players from today, Roughan, Long and Cann have all played for the first team, with others having been around the squad in pre-season. There is definitely a pathway for progression and judging by today’s display, it won’t be long before we see a few more.