Cambridge United bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at the record-breaking quarter-final stage as giants Arsenal secured a last-gasp 3-2 victory at the Emirates Stadium...
An awe-inspiring encounter got underway in thrilling fashion when Ethan Nwaneri’s early strike was cancelled out by a forced own goal. In the ascendency following the break, Kai Yearn caused pandemonium by cooling converting from close range, but the Gunners found a way to come back through Amario Cozier-Duberry’s penalty and Michal Rosiak’s stab home at the death. It saw an end to a commendable journey for the young U’s, who left with their heads held high.
In order to secure the mammoth tie at the home of one of the world’s most finest academies, the U’s created history along the way by dispatching Stevenage 4-2, Portsmouth 4-5, Colchester United 0-6, Chelsea 1-0 and Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 to surpass their best-ever run in the competition. With nothing to fear following back-to-back scalps, the visitors were out to showcase their potential against Jack Wilshere’s promising crop, who had overcome Millwall 6-0, Newcastle United 2-3 and Watford 2-4 to set up the anticipated tie.
For the third round in a row, Head Coach Jimmy Unwin named an unchanged side, maintaining his trusted XI alongside seven substitutes.
Buoyed by the electric atmosphere generated from almost 3000 U’s fans inside North London, the U’s dealt with the early wave of pressure well, with goalkeeper Tom Finch calmly collecting Seb Ferdinand’s cross before Cozier-Duberry fired wide.
The deadlock was broken on the 10th minute when Myles Lewis-Skelly embarked on a dangerous drive into the final third, spearheading an attack which was concluded with Omari Benjamin’s tee up for Nwaneri who arrowed home from outside of the box.
Menacing on the counter attack, the Gunners’ utilised their pace down the left flank by whipping in a cross two minutes later which was fiercely headed at by Benjamin, but just wide of Finch’s right post.
Picking up steam, the boys in amber generated their first attempt on 13 when a free-kick from Glenn McConnell floated to Dan Carey-Evans from inside the six-yard box who leapt well and dipped a header which was gathered by Noah Cooper.
On the 17th minute, the fearless U’s carved open the hosts with Yearn’s transition to Ronan Ismaili, who played in Brandon Njoku – the attacker marauded into the box from the right and lashed over the crossbar.
The scenario United had been dreaming about came true on the 26th minute when a corner was bundled at by several boys, whose presence helped force an own goal to spark delirium between the group, who had deserved the equaliser thanks to their persistence and calmness on the ball.
A jinking run into the area from Cozier-Duberry on the stroke of the whistle allowed him to twist and turn before pulling the trigger from an angle which was denied by George Hoddle’s block. It concluded the half in committed fashion, with the U’s application sensational throughout.
Shooting towards the travelling faithful, Unwin’s group were agonisingly close to taking a euphoric lead two minutes into the second period when McConnell’s teasing delivery was met by an onrushing Njoku who couldn’t keep his shot down from a matter of yards.
On the hour mark, a great block from Carey-Evans stopped the venom from Cozier-Duberry’s attempt as it landed slowly to Finch, who had remained composed whenever tested.
With 63 minutes played, Yearn played in Ismaili who executed a delicate floating ball which landed inches wide of Cooper’s crossbar.
An instant impact from substitute Osman Kamara saw him square to Benjamin but Finch was there to deny, just like he was by catching Nwaneri’s speculative effort shortly after. The Gooners had been deadly on the break but the commendable U’s remained strong.
They got exactly what their endeavour deserved on the 68th minute when prodigy Yearn sent the group ahead after he met McConnell’s teasing delivery and tricked Cooper in the six-yard box by placing into the back of the net from a tight angle before sprinting towards the raucous away contingent.
Their jubilation was shirt-lived, however, when referee Gary Parsons stated Lino Sousa had been fouled in the box – allowing Cozier-Duberry to convert from 12 yards with aplomb.
Seconds after the restart, the U’s almost concluded a dramatic period on 72 when he rattled the bar from 25 yards after picking his spot.
Ten minutes later, Yearn raced into the final third and teed up Njoku who, on the turn, powered a shot which got an important deflection for a corner.
With extra time looming, the visitors’ hearts were broken when Sousa’s cross landed towards Rosiak down the right who clawed the last-gasp winner.
Nonetheless, it was a performance to be proud of - the young U’s had more than stamped their authority. The group will take so much from the occasion and the journey in general, which started back in early November and will now live on in Cambridge United folklore.
Arsenal: Cooper, Rosiak, Robinson, Walters, Sousa, Lewis-Skelly, Ibrahim, Nwaneri (Kacurri, 90+4), Cozier-Duberry, Ferdinand (Kamara, 64), Benjamin (Gower, 82)
Subs Not Used: Rojas, Nichols, Quamina, Oulad M’Hand
Goalscorers: Nwaneri (10), Cozier-Duberry (72), Rosiak (90+3)
Bookings: Lewis-Skelly, Sousa
Cambridge United: Finch, Sandiford, Lott, Carey-Evans, Scales (Usman, 90+4), Hoddle, McConnell (Tyler-Cowlin, 90+3), Barton (Kaunda, 90+4), Yearn, Ismaili, Njoku
Subs Not Used: Briggs, Staszewksi, Winterbone, Chadwick
Goalscorers: OG (26), Yearn (68)
Referee: Gary Parsons
Attendance: 7454 (2,797 away fans)