Sheffield United are deservedly through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup after a dramatic penalty shootout gave them victory at The Reebok Stadium on Friday night.
The visitors lined up in their usual formation of 4-2-3-1. Jake Eastwood was given the starting gloves, and he was protected by a defence of Jason Paling, Julian Banton, Ioan Evans and Elliot Ptak. The two holding midfielders were Ben Whiteman and Connor Dimaio, with Otis Khan, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Joel Coustrain lining up behind Jake Eyre.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the hosts who started off the strongest of the two sides. Jamie Thomas wormed his way through a couple of challenges on the left wing before sending a cross to the back post, where right winger Elliot Newby drilled the ball across Eastwood and wide of the far post.
Eastwood was forced into a save moments later as he parried Sam Bailey’s effort from outside the box, but he gathered the ball at the second attempt to ease the early pressure on the Blades defence.
Once United settled into their rhythm, they started to look dangerous. After Calvert-Lewin shared a nice one-two with Coustrain, the former was unfortunate to see his low shot saved well by Jussi’s son, William Jaaskelainen in the Trotters’ net. And Jaaskelainen was called into action again in the eighth minute as Otis Khan’s free kick was met by the head of the dangerous Calvert-Lewin, only to see it go straight into the keeper’s arms.
The visitors continued to threaten and after excellent hold up play from Jake Eyre just short of halfway, Khan picked the ball up and went on a dazzling run before shooting over the bar. These two almost linked up shortly after, but Eyre couldn’t quite get Khan’s chipped pass under control and Jaaskelainen came out quickly to smother the ball.
It wasn’t until the 32nd minute that the deadlock was broken. Joel Coustrain and Calvert-Lewin were involved in some nice play yet again, before Coustrain played a lovely through ball into the path of free scoring midfielder OTIS KHAN, who looked composed as he fired past the on-rushing Jaaskelainen and into the bottom corner.
That would be the only goal of the first half, with very little action in the closing stages apart from long distance efforts from Robert Holding and Sam Bailey for the home side. Both of those were off target despite being well struck.
Into the second half we went, and despite the home side having plenty of possession, the Blades looked comfortable and were stopping Wanderers from making any sort of breakthrough with their passing. Any chance they looked to get was broken up well by the Blades midfield, with the excellent Connor Dimaio being the proof of this. Elliott Newby thought he had the better of Ptak, but there was Dimaio to clean up just as he had done for the entire game.
Both sides made changes around the hour mark, with the giant William Abbots replacing Jamie Hinchcliffe for the home side and Jake Eyre replaced by Dan Cockerline for United.
After the subs, Sheffield United really started to control the game and were unlucky not to extend their lead. Dominic Calvert-Lewin was involved again, and his expertly lobbed ball for Coustrain had the Irishman in behind the defence. His first time chip looped over the Jaaskelainen and hit the top of the bar before landing on top of Jaaskelainen’s net.
The tired Coustrain was taken off and replaced by Louis Reed, and immediately the woodwork proved to be Bolton’s best defender once again. Whiteman’s corner was cleared as far as Dimaio, who took a touch before unleashing a powerful left footed drive, only to see that cannon back off the crossbar. It was a fantastic effort and his performance on the night would have been worthy of such a goal.
Bolton just couldn’t live with United as they continued to come forward. Jason Paling burst forward from right back and his rising shot was only just over the bar before a flurry of shots from Khan, Cockerline and Calvert-Lewin couldn’t find their way past Jaaskelainen or a series of blocks from the defenders.
For the third time in 15 minutes, the woodwork denied the visitors from doubling their lead. Dan Cockerline won a free kick on the edge of the box and Otis Khan’s shot smashed against the post with Jaaskelainen rooted to the spot.
Khan was denied by the excellent Jaaskelainen once again in the 86th minute, but not before Cockerline’s shot was dragged just wide of the post after more good work from Paling down the right.
With injury time looming, Eastwood was forced into action for the first time in a while after Newby caused problems with his trickery down the left. His cross was diverted towards his own goal by Banton, but Eastwood reacted well to save low down.
Just after the board went up to show that there were three minutes to be added, the home side got an undeserved equaliser. The ball was picked up around 35 yards out by WILLIAM ABBOTTS, who took a touch before scoring an absolute screamer as he fired a powerful shot with his right foot towards the top corner, leaving Eastwood with absolutely no chance and forcing the game into extra time.
The two extra time periods were extremely quiet in terms of goalmouth action. It is a big pitch at The Reebok Stadium and the players from both sides were struggling to keep going, with eight or nine players going down with cramp.
William Abbots arguably had the best chance of extra time, as he turned inside Ioan Evans before shooting straight at Eastwood. The home side had more of the play than they had been used to in the game, possibly down to the energy boost the injury time equaliser must have given them, and Abbotts’ shot on the swivel was blocked by Banton before Newby also shot straight at Eastwood.
United’s best chance fell to Khan but his free kick was well over the bar, meaning the tie went to the drama of penalties.
Bolton Wanderers were the first to shoot, and after successful kicks from Sam Bailey, Elliot Newby and Jamie Thomas, Connor Dimaio, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Otis Khan had all replied with goals of their own to make the score 3-3. After Guillermo Torres’ spot kick came back off the post, Jason Paling kept his cool and fired his penalty in the top corner. Robert Holding would be the unfortunate player to see Eastwood guess right and end the shootout, with the United youngsters piling on him in celebration.
The Blades will be rewarded with another away tie in the fourth round, this time against either Bradford City or Millwall, who play their game on Tuesday 17th December.
Blades: Eastwood, Paling, Evans (capt), Banton, Ptak, Dimaio, Whiteman (Ishmail), Calvert-Lewin, Khan, Coustrain (Reed), Eyre (Cockerline).
Unused: Owen, Cheeseman
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Hendrie, Honeyball, Ball, Holding, Bailey (capt), Newby, Cvetko (Kennedy), Torres, Hinchcliffe (Abbotts), Thomas
Unused: Ramsdale, Taras-Nelson, Griffiths