The ITFC Under 18s’ magnificent FA Youth Cup run came to an end on Wednesday evening (12th May), as Liverpool emerged as 2-1 winners in the semi-final against the Blues.

Adem Atay’s side, sponsored by Britton Group, had won in six rounds to earn a semi-final spot and a chance to take on the Merseysiders. The fixture, which was sponsored by Magnus Group, also gave the Town youngsters a fifth Portman Road outing of the competition. Atay named ten of the same starting XI as had begun the victorious quarter-final against Sheffield United 12 days prior, with goalkeeper Lewis Ridd between the sticks having come off the bench to replace the injured Antoni Bort early in the previous round. The game was broadcast live on BT Sport, BBC Radio Suffolk and across the globe.

Town made a bright start to the game attacking the Sir Alf Ramsey (South) Stand, with Cameron Humphreys’ dangerous cross just evading Gerard Buabo inside the box. Four minutes later good interplay led to Humphreys’ crossing being blocked for a corner, but the Liam Gibbs set piece let to a Liverpool free-kick as a Town player was penalised for a foul in the box (7′).

The visitors had their first half-chance of the game in the tenth minute, as lively left-back James Norris fizzed in a low cross-shot that home ‘keeper Ridd. A minute later, Elkan Baggott and Humphreys combined to quash a threat from Reds right-back Conor Bradley (11′). On 15, A testing shot from visiting midfielder Dom Corness was claimed by Ridd at the second attempt, before a Liverpool corner was punched away to end a spell of Reds pressure on 18’.

Ipswich were presented with the opportunity to threaten on 19′, winning the ball on half-way by Buabo who fed Alfie Cutbush, but unfortunately the Town number 8’s square pass was just behind Nico Valentine and the chance was gone. On 23′, dangerous Liverpool midfielder Mateusz Musialowski’s run and shot was tipped wide by Ridd leading to two corners that the Blues did well to clear.

The match was being played in an open and entertaining fashion, with the action ebbing from one end to the other. On 28′, Humphreys and Town right-back Edwin Agbaje each had a cross charged down before clever play by Town captain Fraser Alexander fed Gibbs for a shot which was also blocked. At this stage, ITFC were enjoying an impressive and encouraging spell of pressure and were forcing errors from the opposition. Agbaje won a corner which Humphreys whipped in left-footed from by the tunnel, which Reds ‘keeper Harvey Davies did well to tip away under his own bar for another corner. The second consecutive corner kick fell to Valentine inside the area but the Town youngster, a goal scorer against the Blades in the quarter-final, mishit his attempt (32’).

On 33′, Albie Armin, Valentine and Humphreys linked well down the left before the latter’s low cross was well claimed by Davies. On 37′, a quick-thinking Cameron Stewart took a free-kick from his own half and almost found Gibbs who had made an intelligent diagonal run from deep. A minute later, Valentine laid the ball off on the edge of the box, once again to Gibbs, but the Town number 10’s shot was hit straight down the middle and didn’t trouble Davies. Two minutes later, at the other end, the lively Musialowski forced Ridd into a diving save which tipped the ball away for a corner (40′).

One minute of added time was announced and it looked as though the sides would return to the dressing rooms with the game goal-less, but Town had other ideas. Gibbs did well to keep the ball alive on the touchline and sent a clipped ball back across the box. Agbaje rose and headed down into the ground and although Davies got a hand to the ball he could not prevent it from crossing the line. The Liverpool ‘keeper may have thought he should have done better, but Town’s players did not care and joined the goal scorer in wild celebrations by the corner flag (45+1’). Shortly afterwards, the whistle blew with Town leading.

The second half kicked off with Town attacking the Sir Bobby Robson (North) Stand, but it was Liverpool who began on the front foot. Two minutes in, a ball was played over the Town defence anf Liverpool number 9 Max Woltman, being played onside by Cameron Stewart, fired over the top (47′). Shortly after, roaming Reds defender Bradley came forward and latched onto a cut-back, but his effort also found the lower tier of the South Stand (50′). Blues centre-back Stewart was finding himself increasngly busy as he did well to snuff out the danger with a well-timed tackle on 54′. before clearing the ball from Musialowski on 57′.

The visitors weren’t having it all their own way, however, and on 58′ Cutbush challenged on halfway before playing a beautiful ball down the line with the outside of his foot to find Humphreys. Town’s wide midfielder dribbled to the by-line and cut the ball back towards the penalty spot, from where Valentine fired over.

Liverpool were certainly in the ascendancy as the game reached the hour mark, forcing two more corners consecutively on 61′ which Ridd and the Town defence did well to repel. On 62′, Cutbush was the first player to receive a yellow card for a foul in the centre circle. From the resulting free-kick, the Merseysiders equalised. Musialowski, whose influence on the game had been increasing for some time, pounced on the loose ball and worked the ball onto his left foot. His strike took a cruel deflection off Stewart and completely wrong-footed the diving Ridd before nestling in the middle of the goal net (63′). Adem Atay made his first change of the game before the game restarted, replacing Cutbush with Ola Bello (64′).

Liverpool immediately pushed for another and won a corner off Armin but Town defended the resulting set-piece well. Town then looked to hit back as a determined Humphreys run forced a throw deep in opposition territory. There was then a delay while Agbaje received treatment for a knock (69′). On 75′, Agbaje sent in a dangerous, deep cross which forced Davies to punch away, but Town’s goal scorer once again had to receive treatment having not fully recovered from the earlier incident. Fortunately he was able to play on.

Town were enjoying a second wind and themselves went looking for a winner, substitute Bello and Gibbs linking well down the left before the latter’s strong, low cross was cleared (78′). Seconds later, Davies did well to claim another Armin delivery. On 79′ Liverpool surprisingly took off goal scorer Musialowski, who had been a strong candidate for Man of the Match, replacing Melkamu Frauendorf. Head Coach Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s bold decision paid almost-instant dividends, however, as the substitute soon gave his team the lead. Woltman did well before playing in Frauendorf. The powerful striker took advantage of his fresh legs to weave the ball onto his right foot, before firing in a powerful shot that Ridd could not stop from hitting the net (81′).

Liverpool had turned the tie on its head in the space of 20 minutes and Town Manager Atay looked to react immediately, making a double substitution on 83′ (Jack Manly and Tawanda Chirewa on for Agbaje and Buabo). Liverpool continued to press though, with James Balagizi suddenly pulling the strings by setting up first Woltman who fired wide (85′) then Frauendorf whose shot was well saved by Ridd (86′). The Premier League guests were intelligent in their use of time management, keeping the ball well as the seconds ticked away for Town. Gibbs became the second Blue to be booked on 89′.

Four minutes of additional time were indicated and, within sixty seconds, Manly had been fouled just inside his own half which gave Town the chance to send everyone forward in search of a late equaliser. An offside flag was raised from the resultant free-kick, however, after which Liverpool retained the ball and frustrated the Blues for much of the added on time. on 94′, Humphreys’ cross was claimed by Davies and the final whistle was blown to confirm Liverpool’s place in the Final. Their opponents will be Aston Villa, who won the other semi-final 4-1 against West Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion 48 hours later to set up the showpiece game at Villa Park.

So it was heartbreak for Town’s youngsters, who were unable to reach the final of a competition that their predecessors had won in 1973, 1975 and 2005. Having begun the tournament way back in early November, however, and having won six matches along the way, the team’s spirited and impressive performances have given everyone at Ipswich Town Football Club a great deal about which to be excited – not only throughout 2020-21, but also for the future.

ITFC line-up: Ridd, Agbaje (Manly 83), Alexander (C), Stewart, Baggott, Armin, Valentine, Cutbush (Bello 64), Buabo (Chirewa 83), Gibbs, Humphreys. Unused subs: Catley, Bradshaw, Nwabueze, Boatswan. Booked: Cutbush, Gibbs.

Liverpool FC line-up: Davies, Bradley, Norris, Quansah (C), Koumetio, Stephenson, Corness, Morton, Woltman, Balagizi, Musialowski (Frauendorf 79). Unused subs: Mrozek, Jonas, Wilson, Chambers, Mabaya, Bajcetic

itfc.co.uk match report: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/may/fa-youth-cup-semi-final-match-report/

Adem Atay post-match interview: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/may/adem-atay-proud-of-group-on-fa-youth-cup-run/

Match photo gallery: https://www.itfc.co.uk/news/2021/may/fa-youth-cup-semi-final-gallery-ipswich-vs-liverpool/

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