Goals from Oliver Burke and Tyler Walker saw Nottingham Forest U18s reach the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals with a 2-0 home win over Burnley, where they will face either Tottenham or Manchester United at the City Ground. Forest were knocked out in the third round of the competition last season by Charlton Athletic, but have now gone ten matches without defeat. In 2012/13 they were knocked out on penalties in the semi-final by Norwich City.
There is something uneasy about watching football in an empty stadium, an eerie echo to every shout from supporter and player. Despite season ticket holders gaining free entry and tickets available for just £4, only 788 people were smattered across the Main Stand. Too many supporters seem uninterested in the next generation.
Kevin MacDonald’s side were dominant for large periods of the tie, enjoying the majority of possession almost from kick off. Burnley goalkeeper Tony Aghayere saved smartly from Tyler Walker, scorer of a hat-trick against West Brom in the previous round, whilst both Matty Cash and left-back Jack Kelly sent shots off target.
Kelly and Cash were Forest’s standout performers, both calm in possession and dangerous when venturing forward. It was a cross from Kelly that assisted the first goal, the ball landing at the feet of right winger Oliver Burke after a short scramble in the box. Burke drilled home from close range.
The goal stirred Burnley into action, and Forest fell onto the back foot as the visitors threatened to respond. Winger Bradley Jackson, Burnley’s standout player, began to cause panic in Forest’s defence. Goalkeeper Tim Erlandsson then saved from the same player, before gangly striker Massanka’s shot was cleared by right-back Ryan Yates. The half-time whistle came as a welcome relief.
After some presumably stern words from MacDonald, Forest began the second-half in the ascendant. This time they never let Burnley back into proceedings, pressurising the opposition into squandering possession on numerous occasions. Aghayere saved from a curling Walker effort, whilst crosses from both Burke and Gamblen caused panic. More than once Burnley defenders sliced clearances in panic
Victory was sealed after 65 minutes. A chipped through ball allowed Walker to break the offside trap, and the striker powered the ball into the corner past Aghayere. It was the striker’s fifth FA Youth Cup goal of the campaign.
Burnley were now visibly deflated. It took more fine goalkeeping to keep the score at 2-0, Walker seeing an effort expertly tipped wide, before Forest’s youngsters took the chance to slow the tempo with victory assured.
Cash was recently signed from the Bisham Abbey-based FAB Academy after a short trial, and has already been called up by the U21 squad, scoring on his debut at that level against Crystal Palace in October. A central midfielder, Cash’s passing is sharp and he retains the physical presence to dominate proceedings.
One of the unfamiliar names to me, but the watching Stuart Pearce will have been impressed by the performance of the left-back. Solid in defence, it was Kelly’s attacking endeavours that were most striking, his overlapping runs a constant option down the left wing. His cross set up the opening goal, and Kelly also went close with three free-kicks from the edge of the box.
Whilst strike partner Tyler Walker will again get the plaudits for his well-taken goal, it was the hold-up play of Irishman McDonagh that allowed Walker to flourish. McDonagh seems comfortable at fending off defenders, consistently drawing fouls from Burnley’s centre-backs. The striker also has great pace, reminiscent of Britt Assombalonga in his ability to control the ball, turn his marker and run at goal.