|Alex Mullin played on the right|
Considering the exploits in the FA Youth Cup it was no surprise to see some changes to the side, but with the small numbers we are carrying our ability to rest too many players is affected. Shay McCartan, Steven Hewitt and Aryn Williams were on the bench, with their places taken by Charlie Holt at right back, Luke Daly in midfield and Alex Mullin, who took up a place on the right side, meaning Kiwi Cameron Howieson could be played in a central position. Ben Woodhead also returned to the side as the age criteria in this competition is U-19, and there was a home debut for Dubliner Luke Gallagher. Archie Love was well enough for a place on the bench, but there is worse news for Tom Anderson who could face a longer spell out of the side with a more serious viral infection.
The game began in damp and blustery conditions and the wind was affecting the play. Long balls were either over hit or caught up in the breeze, while our passing play was off the mark, probably due to a combination of fatigue and the pressing style of Vale. The first half produced few chances for either side. Jason Gilchrist fashioned two half chances that he fired off target and Adam Evans was bundled over twice in the box claiming fouls, but the ref was not in a charitable mood. For Vale, their best effort was snuffed out when a dangerous cross was diverted wide by the alert Holt.
A pre-planned half time change saw Luke Conlan replaced by Aryn Williams. With the wind at our back I was pretty confident that we may create some better chances, and so it appeared with Gilchrist breaking through and forcing the keeper to save at his feet. Diminutive midfielder Luke Daly was also very unlucky to see his shot go inches over after latching onto an Alex Coleman knockdown in the box.
The chances were not as abundant as I was hoping for but a Williams ball into the box was just flicked off the head of the advancing Gilchrist and put out for a corner. Howieson was unfortunate not to add another direct from the corner goal to his weeks tally as the keeper clawed it away. Love, still sporting his light cast, replaced Gallagher in the middle of the park and McCartan was introduced for Howieson as we searched for the winning formula.
The visitors had a couple of chances following defensive lapses but never really tested Woodhead. Back at the other end there was a glorious chance for Evans but he slipped the ball past the keeper and rolled it wide of the post., but we finally made the breakthrough with about ten minutes remaining.
We had possession on the right hand side of the park and the Vale defence were holding a relatively high line. Holt overlapped down the wing and ran onto a ball that dissected the defence, allowing him to run free into the box. He cut it back onto his left foot and curled it beyond the keeper into the far corner for his first Claret goal, and what a lovely finish it was too.
We could have put the icing on the cake as the game wound down as first McCartan hit the bar with a 30 yard blockbuster, then saw a cross shot flash across goal with no one gambling following a tenacious break into the box and a nutmeg on the full back.
Perhaps that game was a little scrappy but the win was the important thing and picking up results in an ugly manner shows the mental strength of some of these boys.
Also I just want to take this opportunity to congratulate the lads on the Fulham result. Lots of people will be delighted that it has set up a clash with the enemy from Ewood. Me? I’m delighted that it’s led to a semi-final place in the FA Youth Cup for the first time in my lifetime – that is the key thing here. To be one two legged affair away from the final is some achievement and one to be proud of.
Team:- Ben Woodhead, Charlie Holt, Luke Conlan (Aryn Williams), Alex Coleman, Jack Errington, Luke Gallagher (Archie Love), Luke Daly, Alex Mullin, Adam Evans, Jason Gilchrist, Cameron Howieson (Shay McCartan)
Subs not used:- Josh Cook, Lewis Nuttall