U18: TOWN INTO CUP SEMIS AFTER THRILLER

Ipswich Town’s Under 18s are through to this season’s FA Youth Cup Semi-Finals, following an epic win over Sheffield United at Portman Road on Friday (30th April).

Adem Atay’s side will now face Liverpool in the last four, having emerged victorious following this marathon encounter. The game lasted close to three hours in total, having required 30 minutes of extra-time but also due to 33 further minutes being added due to in-game stoppages.

The game kicked off at 5.10pm, the ten-minute delay relating to traffic issues having affected the visitors’ journey from South Yorkshire to Suffolk. Town were attacking the Sir Alf Ramsey (South) Stand. With only a couple of minutes on the clock, Town goal keeper Antoni Bort pushed away a corner but was injured in the process and had to leave the field on a stretcher following a long spell of treatment, to be replaced by Lewis Ridd. United defender Harvey Cullinan picked up a knock in the same incident and had to have a bandage applied to his head, as well as needing to change into a numberless ‘blood shirt’.

The game restarted after the sixteen-minute stoppage and the Blues enjoyed a spell of pressure. Firstly Gerard Buabo, Alfie Cutbush and Nico Valentine combined to create a half-chance for Edwin Agbaje, but the Town rigth-back side-footed wide. Then, a few minutes later, Cameron Humphreys and Cutbush both saw shots blocked with the latter’s leading to a corner kick. The resulting set-piece fell to Fraser Alexander, who effort was also closed down by a Blades defender.

The visitors grew into the game as the first half approached its mid-way point, with Ridd called into action by a Hassan Ayari shot. Seconds later, centre-back Cameron Stewart made an incredible, goal-saving block from forward Will Osula. United kept up the pressure and forced consecutive corners, but a foul on Ridd by Cullinan relieved the pressure.

Town responded with their own spell of dominance, Valentine firing into ‘keeper Callum Hiddeston’s arms before first Liam Gibbs then Humphreys forced corners. Two minutes later, a delightful, cross-field diagonal pass from Albie Armin found Agbaje whose low cross was cut out. Four minutes later Valentine’s cross was intercepted following a flowing Ipswich move, before the fourth official announced sixteen minutes of added time.

Gibbs then saw a shot deflected wide for another Town corner. Five minutes into the added time, the Blues came closest to breaking the deadlock as a pass found Armin onside and his looped effort bounced onto the bar. In the aftermath, Buabo flicked a cross just wide of the far post. In the ninth additional minute Agbaje claimed the first yellow card of the match for a clumsy tackle, followed by Stewart three minutes later for a push in the back. Ipswich continued to press, Hiddleston saving from Cutbush before Stewart met a Gibbs free-kick but the Blades gloveman was able to claim. The referee’s whistle brought the first half to a close at 6.11pm, over an hour after kick-off.

The second half got underway with Town attacking the Sir Bobby Robson (North) Stand, with no further substitutions having been made by either side at the break, and inside two minutes the home side opened the scoring. Humphreys played a clipped pass down the left flank to Gibbs, whose cross was converted by Valentine from the middle of the penalty area (1-0, 47′).

Cullinan got United’s first booking of the game on 51 minutes for a foul on Buabo. From the resulting free-kick, taken by Humphreys, Alexander looped a high pass over the top which found Stewart onside. The Town defender, perhaps thinking he was offside or not realising how much time he had, sent a first-time header wide. The game was ebbing and flowing, as United forward Osula saw penalty claims waved away before another Armin diagonal found Cutbush who fired into the side netting – although the referee had already whistled for a foul by Town in the build-up.

On 57 minutes, the Blades found an equaliser. Right-back Oluwafemi Seriki made a good run to the by-line and his low cross was turned in skilfully by number 10 Osula (1-1). A minute later the visitors almost cranked up the pressure another notch, but Francis Maguire couldn’t quite reach a diagonal ball that was pinged to him in the box.

On 62 minutes, Ipswich almost reclaimed the lead in an astonishing piece of action. Buabo sent an effort onto the bar, Valentine saw his shot saved from the rebound, Hiddleston pushed Agbaje’s effort onto the post and Gibbs fired into the North Stand – all within the space of 10 seconds. Town had hit the woodwork twice in a matter of seconds, but unbelievably the scoreline remained level at 1-1. On 67 minutes Elkan Baggott, recently called up by Indonesia’s senior squad for the first time, became the third Town player to be carded following a foul on the half-way line. United’s players and coaches were calling for a red, claiming that the Town defender had used an elbow, but the officials ignored these pleas and gave a yellow.

Gibbs then became the fourth Blue to be cautioned, for a tackle on half-way near the Cobbold Stand (71′). The tackle sent Blades left-back Beau Anderson into the advertising hoardings and, after another lengthy delay of over ten minutes, the defender was stretchered off to be replaced by number 12 Tom Angell. Town also made another substitution during the stoppage, with Tawanda Chirewa replacing Cutbush.

Within a minute of the restart, the Yorkshiremen took the lead. Number 11 Andre Brookes fired past Ridd from the edge of the area and celebrated with his teammates near the Portman Road tunnel (1-2, 83′). Town reacted by bringing on Ola Bello in place of Buabo and the substitute was soon in the action, flicking a Humphreys cross into the goalkeeper’s arms. As the end of normal time approached, a Town corner led to Valentine firing wide before the fourth official indicated fourteen minutes of added time.

Sheffield United replaced lively forward Daniel Jebbison with substitute Antwoine Hackford as they looked to see out the win. Town went looking for a late equaliser in the fifth minute of added time, as Humphreys whipped in a free-kick from the left touchline about 20 yards out. Substitute Chirewa got his header on target, but the effort was saved by Hiddleston who spilled before his defender completed the clearance. United then broke as Town committed men forward, but Maguire fired a cut-back over the bar and into the empty seating in the South Stand Lower Tier.

Town continued to push and, in the tenth minute of the additional time, got their reward. A spell of pressure led to a corner in front of Planet Blue and Baggott got on the end of the delivery to send his towering, back-post header under the bar and into the net and bring the score back level again with just minutes remaining (2-2). The hosts sensed an opportunity win the game in ‘normal time’ and Bello’s tricky run won a free-kick on the edge of the box. Chirewa took it right-footed and stung Hiddleston’s palms, but the ball was cleared to safety. Three minutes later, the full-time whistle was blown to send the game into extra-time.

The extra half-hour began evenly, with the two sides cancelling each other out for five or six minutes. in the 97th minute, good link-up play from Valentine and Agbaje resulted in the former seeking Bello in the box, but the pass was cut out. A minute later, Riff punched away a Sheffield United free-kick. On 100′, Humphreys sent an excellent cross from the left into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’, forcing a Blades defender into an excellent interception which he did well not to slice into his own net. A minute later Humphreys, whose influence on the game was increasing rapidly, lashed a left-footed shot from just inside the area into the grateful grasp of Hiddleston. United broke immediately and forced a smart stop from Ridd.

On 103 minutes, United brought on Joshua Smith in place of defender Oliver Arblaster but within a minute the game swung back in Town’s favour. Ayari was given a straight red card for a poor tackle on Humphreys mid-way inside the visitors’ half. The United midfielder could have no complaints and walked off the field without protesting. Hiddleston tipped the resulting free-kick away from danger, but Town could sense an opportunity to win the game without the need for penalties. One minute of added time was played before the whistle was blown for half-time on extra-time.

The final fifteen minutes began after the Yorkshire side had made their final substitution, Louie Marsh replacing goal scorer Osula, with Town once again attacking the North Stand. Two minutes after the restart, Humphreys’ run and chipped cross-shot resulted in a United defender clearing well from under his own bar (107′). Two minutes later, the Blades had a chance of their own as a corner was almost turned into the net. Town then made their fourth and final change, with the lively Valentine replaced by Jesse Nwabueze (110′).

A minute later, a Town corner broke to Chirewa whose shot was well blocked. On 114 minutes, Humphreys’ low, left-footed shot was saved by Hiddleston and a defender put the ball behind. From the resulting corner, Armin headed wide. Ipswich were piling on the pressure and looking to make their numerical advantage count. A flowing move featuring Chirewa, Bello and Gibbs ended with the latter cutting onto his right foot and curling an effort agonisingly wide (117′). A minute later, Chirewa found space inside the box but hesitated to shoot with his left foot and was crowded out.

The Blues did manage to find a late, dramatic winner, however. Agbaje received the ball on the right touchline and summoned the energy to cut inside. His clever ball found Humphreys inside the box and his right-footed cross from the byline was turned into his own goal by Cullinan to prompt a mass pile-on of a celebration near the corner flag (3-2, 118′). From the kick-off, Town pressed again and Bello fired over following more strong work from Humphreys. Two minutes of additional time were indicated.

There was still one more scare for Town, as a mis-hit shot forced Ridd to turn the ball onto the bar out out for a corner (120+1). Blades ‘keeper Hiddleston came up for the corner, but Town cleared and broke quickly. It looked as though substitute Nwabueze would add some gloss to the scoreline, but his attempt was blocked. Moments later, Humphreys won a free-kick down by the home dugout and the final whistle blew to provoke wild celebrations from everyone in Ipswich Town blue.

Adem Atay’s young Blues have now seen off Southend United, Chelmsford City, Fulham, Swindon Town, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United in this season’s cup run. The reward for this latest incredible performance and result is a mouthwatering semi-final tie at home to Liverpool. At the time of writing the fixture date is yet to be confirmed, but the game will take place at Portman Road on or before the 15th May.

ITFC line-up: Bort (Ridd 18′), Agbaje, Alexander, Stewart, Baggott, Armin, Valentine (Nwabueze 110′), Cutbush (Chirewa 71′), Buabo (Bello 84′), Gibbs, Humphreys. Unused subs: Bradshaw, Osbourne, Manly. Goals: Valentine, Baggott, OG. Booked: Agbaje, Stewart, Baggott, Gibbs

SUFC line-up: Hiddleston, Seriki, Anderson (Angell 81′), Arblaster (C) (Smith 103′), Cullinan, L. Williams, Ayari, Maguire, Jebbison (Hackford 90′), Osula (Marsh 105′), Brookes. Unused subs: Hampshaw, T. Williams, Lankshear. Goals: Osula, Brookes. Booked: Cullinan. Sent off: Ayari

More on the game via the Main Club Website itfc.co.uk:

Match report: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/april/ipswich-town-vs-sheffield-united-fa-youth-cup-match-report/

Adem Atay interview: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/april/adem-atay-on-youth-cup-qf-victory/

Dressing room celebrations: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/april/youth-cup-qf-dressing-room-celebrations/

Match photo gallery: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/may/ipswich-town-vs-sheffield-united-fa-youth-cup-gallery/

Inside Match Day – FA Youth Cup Quarter-Final Special: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/may/inside-matchday-youth-cup-qf/

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