A late winner from an unlikely scorer sealed a spirited comeback for Sheffield United’s U18s against Crewe last night at Bramall Lane.
Blades left-back George Cantrill was the hero as his clinical finish saw Derek Geary’s young Blades through to the second round of the FA Youth Cup, after Jordan Hallam had earlier dragged them back on level terms.
Travis Binnion, the former Blade now in charge of the club’s Academy set-up, admitted on the eve of this fixture that it would reveal much about the character of his youngsters, as well as their ability.
And so it proved as United, who were behind for large periods of this absorbing contest, finally got the elusive equaliser and then followed up with the winner as extra-time loomed large.
Geary’s youngsters kicked off the game unbeaten in six matches but were behind early on, and in the most unfortunate of circumstances. Crewe striker Luke Walley closed down Joshua Perryman, and the Blades goalkeeper’s kick rebounded off Walley and looped agonisingly into the net infront of the empty Kop.
The goal seemed to invogorate United and Hallam, who had earlier cleared well from a Crewe corner, twice went close to dragging them back on level terms.
United - who reached the final of this competition back in 2011 when Manchester United, including Paul Pogba, beat them over a two-legged final - rode their luck again when Cantrill denied visiting skipper Harry Pickering, and another poor kick from Perryman presented the ball again to Walley.
But, this time, the young goalkeeper’s blushes were spared, largely thanks to a fantastic recovering challenge from towering centre-half Joseph Cummings.
Tyler Smith missed his volley completely with the goal at his mercy, but the winger grew into the game steadily and was a constant threat throughout. As was Blades skipper Regan Slater, a combative central midfielder who combines industry and invention in one neat, yet bustling, package.
Cummings’ powerful header looped just over the Crewe crossbar as United continued to look for an equaliser, and Smith tested visiting goalkeeper Scott Wardley’s handling with a stinging effort from long range.
Slater did likewise with a shot that appeared to swerve and dip viciously before Wardley punched it away, and the Crewe goalkeeper rode his luck once more right on the stroke of half-time when his punch came back off his own crossbar.
Crewe started the second half in positive fashion, and Owen Dale’s effort flashed narrowly wide of Perryman’s left-hand post, but it was from one of the Blades goalkeeper’s kicks that his side nearly drew level. Hallam and Smith both looked to get on the end of the long punt, before the latter appeared to be upended by Wardley in the box.
Cantrill’s audition for his late intervention went badly, when he miscued an attempted volley into the empty Kop when well placed, but United’s pressure did eventually tell with their equaliser.
Smith, switched to the left wing after the impressive Stephen Mallon replaced Oliver Greaves, unleashed a curling effort which seemed to hang in the air, before hitting Wardley’s left-hand post.
The rebound fell kindly to Hallam, who could make no mistake from yards out, and United were level.
Harvey Gilmour appeared happy enough when he appeared to have given United the lead, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside, and teammate Keegan Burton was inches away from a late winner when his header hit the crossbar and bounced over.
But, with extra-time imminent, United pounced for the winner. Smith was again the chief instigator, delivering a sublime cross from the right which Cantrill dispatched with the aplomb of a seasoned striker, sparking joyous scenes on the pitch and in the sizeable crowd.
Smith was denied the goal his display deserved in added time by Wadley, and United marched on to the second round of this famous competition. On this evidence at least, you wager that few teams will fancy facing them.
Blades: Perryman, Charlesworth, Cummings, Graham, Cantrill, Smith, Slater (capt), Gilmour, Greaves (Mallon, 71), Burton (Parkhouse, 90), Hallam. Subs not used: Brown, Warhurst, Ford.
Crewe: Wardley, Woodcock, Wilkinson, Sass-Davies, Offord, Pickering (capt), Lynch (Harrison, 71) Lundstram, Dale, Reilly, Walley (Griffiths, 60). Subs not used: Barlow, Hilton, Thompson.