With the Youth Team’s 2019/20 season now also at an end, second year scholar Harvey Steel has penned a review of the Cambridge United Under 18s’ campaign.

Whilst pushing himself on the pitch throughout the course of the season, Steel has also been working hard off it, where alongside his regular studies he has been developing his media skills in preparation for a career beyond his academy years, having been a part of the Cambridge United youth set up for over a decade. Supporters can read through his portfolio of work at his online blog Steel Views by clicking here, which includes match reports, loan watch features and columns highlighting what life is like as an academy player at a professional Club.

2019/20 Under 18’s Season review:

It was a season of inspiring highs and crushing lows for Cambridge United U18’s as the season, in unprecedented fashion, was ended early.

Last week the Club received the news that the remaining U18 Merit League 1 fixtures would be cancelled, due to the Coronavirus outbreak in the U.K. The news was tough to take for the U18 players and staff as it meant bringing a halt to their rally for the Merit League 1 title, a competition they were looking to win. However, it is not all bad for the U’s as this year’s U18 side grew on last season’s efforts, both in the League and cup.

A season with huge promise got off to a bad start. Missing key players, the U’s travelled to Northampton Town FC in their opening fixture of the Merit League campaign. Despite taking the lead through a wonder strike from Lewis Simper, United were thrashed 5-1. The following weekend, they got their campaign up and running, taking home three points after a comfortable win against Barnet. Next up, a trip to the South West of the country to face Bristol Rovers U23’s in the first qualifying round of the Premier League Cup. Despite being faced by much more experienced players, in the likes of Alfie Kilgour, Rollin Menayese and Michael Kelly, the U’s produced one of their finest performances of the season with a 2-0 win. Dickens and Battersby grabbed the goals but it was goalkeeper Chadwick who was the hero on the day, pulling off some magnificent saves to preserve the U’s lead. Successive hard-fought wins followed, first over Stevenage and then Southend. A last gasp equaliser from U16 Nathan Braithwaite against Luton Town ensured the U’s unbeaten run extended to five games.

A trip to Leyton Orient in the middle of September brought an end to that run. It was a defeat that proved costly in their challenge for the title. The U’s wastefulness in front of goal was punished by Orient striker, Lawrence Hammond who scored a brilliant hat trick. The following Tuesday United were visited by Exeter City in the first round of the Youth Alliance cup, a competition which they had relished in last season. A strong performance from Cambridge United saw them run out 4-2 winners and progress into the next round. A 5-1 battering over Gillingham then saw the U18s win consecutive games as a positive start to the season was beginning to really get motoring. However, their form didn’t last as they only managed to pick up three points out of a possible 12 from their next four games and more disappointingly were knocked out of the Cambs Invitational Cup at the hands of Soham Town Rangers.

The FA Youth Cup was next up for The U’s and their first round tie saw them make a trip to Roots Hall to face a Southend side who they had lost against only weeks ago. However, that wouldn’t be the case this time. In a cagey affair, the U’s prevailed, winning 2-1 thanks to a double from Jake Battersby on a chilly October evening. A comfortable 3-1 win against Leyton Orient followed in the League before the U’s turned their attention to the second round of the FA Youth Cup. A trip to The Hive to face Barnet was their reward for their first-round win in Essex. After falling behind to the Bees inside 10 minutes, United rebuilt and found a goal of their own just before half time. They found themselves behind again in the second half but once more responded this time through Richard-Noel. As the game looked set to go to extra time, Barnet had one last chance. A corner whipped in was cleared at the front post initially but the ball was piled back into the box, this time being met by a Barnet head and as the ball looped over Chadwick and into the empty net, United watched their FA Youth Cup hopes fade away.

The painful defeat caused an disappointing effect on the U’s league form, where they struggled for consistency, winning only one of their next three games. However, the first game of December provided United with a chance to get back on track, in a competition they thrived in, the Youth Alliance Cup. This time it was the quarter-final and the U18s faced a stern test in a flying Peterborough side. I’m absolutely delighted to report that I scored the opener, putting United 1-0 up in the first half however, Posh later replied bringing the game level. The full-time whistle meant the game would go straight to penalties; where five perfect spot kicks saw the U’s progress into the semi-final. December proved to be a pleasing month overall for United in fact, as they picked up another two league wins, first against MK Dons and then against league leaders Northampton. And off the field, U18 duo Lewis Simper and Tom Dickens put pen to paper on professional deals at the Club, to seal what was an excellent calendar month.

January saw United U18’s carry on their impressive form, picking up back to back wins against Stevenage and Barnet in their last games of the Merit League season. These wins helped the U’s secure a fourth place finish, ensuring that they’d go into Merit League 1 for the second part of the season. However, United still had unfinished business in the Youth Alliance Cup against AFC Bournemouth in the semi final. It was a high-quality game with both sides seeing their fair share of possession, both teams had their chances but to no avail. The final whistle blew and once more, like the quarter final, the U’s were faced with a penalty shootout. Two early saves from Chadwick put United into a commanding position in the shootout but when Dearman missed the U’s third, the nerves began to kick in. The responsibility was left with…well me, to send United into the final and I did just that. The U’s were on their way to the final.

There, they faced an AFC Wimbledon side who had just got the better of them on two occasions during the league campaign. But this wouldn’t stop the U’s putting in a valiant performance, keeping the score line to 0-0 for 71 minutes of the match.  The deadlock was broken when The U’s were hit with a swift counter attack from their own corner.However, they had a fantastic chance to level moments later but U16 Saleem Akanbi’s effort was blocked off the line. Unfortunately, they were unable to find the back of the net and Wimbledon ran out winners. Nevertheless United could be proud of their efforts and their journey in the competition, surpassing last season’s achievements in the process.

(Full Final Match Report : https://harveysteel.wixsite.com/mysite/post/match-report-cufc-u18-s-vs-afcw-u18-s)

Once more the U’s would show their ability to bounce back from defeat, a key component to their success over the season, as they kicked off their Merit League One campaign with a 2-1 win over Yeovil Town. This was thanks to a stunning freekick from Joe Dearman, which was later nominated for LFE Goal of The Month. Another 2-1 victory, this time against Northampton, saw the U’s maintain their 100% winning record and go top of the table. Little did the players and staff know, that there was just one more game left of the season against Swindon Town. The U’s shot out the blocks in the fixture, thanks to goals from Richard-Noel, Dearman and U15 Kai Yearn, seeing them go in at the break 3-1 up. However, a strong second half from the visitors saw the points shared in an entertaining 3-3 draw.  

Overall, it was a pleasing season for all involved with Cambridge United’s U18’s as they surpassed last season efforts, reaching the Youth Alliance Cup final and securing a 4th place finish in the league. Along with this the Academy were also able to offer professional contracts to three members of the U18 squad.

More match reports and CUFC Youth Team content can be found at; www.SteelViews.co.uk