Notts County youth team delivered a performance that epitomised the Academy ethos in Friday night’s Midland Youth Cup Final encounter with Walsall. The young Magpies worked tirelessly for 120 minutes but were defeated 4-2 after extra time.
Notts came from behind twice to take the match beyond the 90 at the Banks’s Stadium. Shortly before the end of regulation time, County went down to 10 men and the Saddlers made the extra man pay to strike twice more in the additional minutes.
The hosts took an early lead through Jake Heath, who slotted home from Alex Reid’s low corner. This only made County more determined and they proceeded to create a host of chances.
Kyle Dixon’s through pass almost saw Romello Nangle grab an equaliser within a few minutes of the opener, only he was denied by a brave save. Malachi Lavelle-Moore followed up on the rebound but failed to hit the target.
Mitchell Clarke and Lavelle-Moore, again, came close, as Notts maintained the pressure but the goal finally arrived in the 20th minute, following a long ball out of defence. The home goalkeeper Richard Jones rushed off his line to punch clear but could only find the feet of Lavelle-Moore, who made no mistake in finding the bottom-left corner with a placed shot.
County had the ball in the net again, when Nangle broke free to lift over Jones with a delicate chipped finish, but the goal was ruled out for offside. At the other end, Harry Andrews was in fine form between the sticks and made fine saves to deny Reece Flanagan on two occasions.
After the interval, Walsall regained the lead, again from a set-piece, this time a free-kick on the right flank. Flanagan’s drive took a strong deflection to beat Andrews at the near post.
The Saddlers should have killed the game off when they were awarded a penalty but Andrews guessed correctly down to his left to keep out Danny Griffiths stern hit. The stopper quickly scrambled to his feet to make another fantastic block, which gave his side a big lift and inspired a late leveller.
Walsall had dominated much of the second period but the Magpies stepped it up in the final 10 minutes. From a Liam Guest knockdown, Lavelle-Moore made it 2-2 with a close-range finish that prompted passionate celebrations in front of the vocal away supporters on the touchline.
There was time for more drama in the closing stages, as Kameron Campbell was shown a red card for a late lunge. Notts headed into extra time with 10 men but maintained the belief that they could come out on top.
11 minutes into the first half of extra time, Walsall went ahead for the third time, after Joe Sinton’s deep cross was headed across goal by substitute Amadou Bakayoko. Jacob Hobbis waited unmarked and nodded inside the right-hand post, despite Andrews’ best efforts to claw the ball away.
Notts refused to give up and continued to press all over the pitch, despite cramp setting in for a number of players. And, their determination was nearly rewarded when Lavelle-Moore’s low centre narrowly evaded Gino Kelleher at the back post.
Any hopes of taking the game to a penalty shoot-out were diminished in the dying moments. Flanagan again found the net from a free-kick - a powerful, curved strike around the wall, which nestled into the bottom-right corner.
Although runners-up on the night, the youth team did the club proud and showed the pride and passion fitting of the badge. For many of the players, it was their last game in a County shirt but they went out on a high note that earned the plaudits of not only Academy manager Mick Leonard, but the first team manager Chris Kiwomya, the board of directors and the fantastic away following.
Man of the Match: Gino Kelleher
Notts Co: Andrews. Campbell, Golding, Hodge, Guest, McGowan, Nangle, Dixon, Lavelle-Moore, Kelleher, Clarke.
Subs From: Crust, Randall, Bange, Guy, Geldenhuys.
Walsall: Jones, Sinton, Henry, Heath, Christhorou, Preston, Hobbis, Flanagan, Griffiths, Rush, Reid.
Subs From: Kinsella, Roberts, Bakayoko, Ashmore, Dallison.