Cambridge United reached the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in their history as they dispatched Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 at the Abbey Stadium...
The memorable encounter started with a fine strike from starlet Glenn McConnell in the opening stages. Although Joey Phuthi equalised matters shortly after, the U’s continued to attack the Owls and got their rewards at the death when Brandon Njoku slotted home to cap a record-breaking evening and secure a visit to Premier League giants Arsenal in the final eight.
In the final 16 for the second season in succession, and for just the third time in their history following a mazy run in 2004, the exciting crop of youngsters had enjoyed a heroic route to this round, dispatching Stevenage 4-2, Portsmouth 4-5, Colchester United 0-6 and one of England’s finest in Chelsea 1-0. As for the Owls, the category two outfit were looking to go one better than in 2021/22 and had overcome Burton Albion on penalties, Derby County 1-0, Barnsley also from the spot and Leicester City 3-2 en route.
Following the euphoric Fourth Round victory 13 days earlier, Jimmy Unwin named an unchanged XI. In the only addition to the substitutes bench, Mo Habib replaced JJ Briggs.
Starting in rampant fashion, the U’s forced visiting goalkeeper Jack Hall into a fine save on the 5th minute when Njoku latched at an opportunity from a matter of yards, but the Owl impeccably held onto the fierce shot.
The hosts entered dreamland three minutes later when, in a smart passage of play, the ball landed to McConnell who pulled the trigger from the outskirts of the box, sweetly lashing into the bottom corner for his seventh goal of the competition.
An excellent individual move from Phuthi drew the sides level on the 18th minute after the winger worked his way into the box from the left and fired past Tom Finch.
Remaining dangerous in the final third, a strike from distance from Ronan Ismaili on 21 forced Hall into pawing over the crossbar, before Kai Yearn’s free-kick from 25 yards moments later was agonisingly close to creeping home.
A big chance went begging on the stroke of half-time when the industrious Njoku danced down the left being teeing up Yearn who couldn’t convert from close range. All in all, it had been an evenly-matched tie, with the U’s enjoying their fair share of opportunities against the 1991 runners-up.
Coming out of the blocks in the ascendency, Dan Barton embarked on a marauding run down the right on the 55th minute, picking out Ismaili with a cross, who fired over.
Looking likeliest to grab the third goal, Yearn executed a dipping free-kick on the stroke of the hour mark, landing on a plate for Dan Carey-Evans who angled his header inches wide of Hall’s right post.
One-way traffic continued, with Republic of Ireland youth international McConnell utilising a burst of pace after being released down the middle, but he could only cannon at the crossbar.
With the clash approaching its dying embers, the Owls broke with a deadly counter ten minutes from time through Devlan Moses, who menacingly raced down the left and picked out Bailey Cadamarteri who couldn’t poke home from a tricky angle.
Just when extra-time was looming, the young U’s sparked delirium on the 87th minute when the unplayable Barton danced down the right and picked out Njoku from 10 yards, who astutely turned and unleashed a killer drilled ball to seal the tie and create a piece of history that will forever be encapsulated in the memories of the players and coaching staff who made it happen.
Cambridge United: Finch, Scales, Lott, Carey-Evans (Winterbone, 84), Sandiford, Hoddle, McConnell, Barton (Kaunda, 90), Yearn, Ismaili, Njoku
Subs Not Used: Habib, Staszewski, Chadwick, Usman, Tyler-Cowlin
Goalscorers: McConnell (8’), Njoku (87’)
Sheffield Wednesday: Hall, Flannery, Chapman, Maltby, Phuthi, Thornton, Tapudzai, Shipston, Maciag (Moses, 67), Cadamarteri, Bradford
Subs Not Used: Phillips, Rodrigues, Johnson, Fernandes, Rhule, Bobea
Goalscorers: Phuthi (18’)
Referee: Niall Smith