By Josh Wilde - (@josh_wilde20)
Goals from Jaidon Anthony and Charlie Seaman saw AFC Bournemouth come from behind to beat Luton Town 2-1 and lift the Under-18s Youth Alliance Cup Area Trophy.
The young Cherries will now face Wigan Athletic in the National Final after having the edge in a tightly fought match at the Vitality Stadium.
Luton started on the front foot and went ahead inside six minutes.
Jack Snelus drove towards goal and, despite seeing his initial shot well-saved by Bournemouth goalkeeper Will Dennis, the Luton forward was quickest to react, slotting home the rebound to give his side an early advantage.
The Cherries responded strongly as Nathan Clements had an effort tipped over by Hatters’ goalkeeper Liam Gooch, before Nnamdi Ofoborh whistled a shot wide after good build-up play down the left.
It was not long before Bournemouth’s pressure tolled as Carl Fletcher’s side scored twice in quick succession.
Firstly, Clements laid in Anthony to score past the onrushing Gooch on 12 minutes, before a well-worked corner routine saw Seaman’s 17th minute strike deflect past the helpless Hatters’ stopper.
After a breathless first quarter, both sides settled into the game and Luton ended the half strongly.
Six minutes before the break, a nice one-two between Arthur Read and Tyreeq Bakinson threatened to unlock the Cherries defence, but Read could only shoot straight at Dennis when well placed.
Hatters’ captain Kavan Cotter had further chances to get his side back on level terms in first-half stoppage time, but Dennis was twice able to deny him.
First, the Cherries goalkeeper produced an excellent one-on-one block save, before pushing away Cotter’s low shot moments later.
Bournemouth kept their slender lead intact and came out in the second period renewed, nearly scoring straight from kick-off, but Clements’ shot curled agonisingly wide.
Not wanting to be outdone by his opposite number, visiting goalkeeper Gooch made an outstanding reaction save on the hour mark, getting down low with a strong left-hand to push substitute Ryan Glover’s goalbound effort to safety.
Both teams made tactical changes as they looked to get the upper hand in this close contest, but it was Luton’s early goalscorer who nearly fashioned a late equaliser.
Eyeing a brace, Snelus fired an effort just wide of the post with seven minutes remaining which, had it gone in, would have sent the tie to penalties.
Despite some late pressure, the Cherries held on quite comfortably to secure a hard-earned victory.
As the synonymous ‘Championes’ chant emerged from the home dressing room, AFC Bournemouth youth manager Carl Fletcher spoke exclusively to The Rock.
Fletcher said his side did well to show resilience after the early setback.
He explained: “I’m pleased for the lads, they worked so hard. Mentally and physically, it was a big occasion and a good experience for them to try and deal with that.
“If I’m being overly critical, I thought we could have played better, particularly in possession.
“I’ve seen us play better this season but taking the whole scenario into account, they’ve done well, especially coming back from a goal down.
“The early goal almost did us a favour, it took the shackles off. We’re a very young side, they were all first years apart from Kyle Taylor.
“Gav Kilkenny came back from Ireland under-17 duty in Cyprus this morning and got a taxi straight down from London to play. He played yesterday for them so it just shows the lads’ commitment.”
Fletcher was especially pleased with his side’s second goal, a perfectly executed training ground move that caught the Luton defence off-guard.
He said: “It should have been used for the first corner but I’m pleased Jaidon [Anthony] and [Antonio] Diaz ended up working it so well. It’s nice to see it come off.
“We always say to the lads, there’s no point doing it in training if we’re never going to try it.
“Even if it doesn’t work, I’d rather them try, because at least that shows they’ve got the bravery to have a go.”
Speaking about the 1,400 attendance, Fletcher added: “That’s unbelievable. I’m really pleased the club let us have it here and for all those fans to come is great.
“The lads can go and say they’ve played in front of a thousand people. It’s another great experience for them.”
Looking ahead to the National Final, the manager believes it is another stern challenge for his young Cherries.
He said: “It’s another test, another game in a stadium under the lights and another learning curve which will help them progress in their careers.
“Some players will be able to deal with it, some won’t. It’s usually the ones that can deal with the pressure that come through and actually perform.”
AFC Bournemouth Under-18s starting 11 (3-4-2-1 formation): Dennis (GK); York, Sherring (Captain), Camp; Seaman, Taylor, Ofoborh, Diaz; Kilkenny, Anthony; Clements.
Substitutes: Glover (on for Anthony, 41’), Boote (on for Taylor, 81’), Nippard (on for Kilkenny, 90’), Scrimshaw (on for Clements, 81’), Ward (unused).
Luton Town Under-18s starting 11 (4-2-3-1 formation): Gooch (GK); Bean, Mead, Jones, James; Bakinson, Peck; Cotter (Captain), Read, Snelus; Tomlinson.
Substitutes: Sorunke (on for Bean, 25’), Stead (on for Read, 62’), Shamalo (on for Tomlinson, 62’), Neufville (on for James, 90’), Painter (unused).