FA Youth Cup Report & Reaction: Watford 1-0 Birmingham
By Kevin Affleck
Darren Sarll hailed the FA Youth Cup victory over Birmingham City as a feather in the cap for the club's Academy after they knocked out last season's semi-finalists.
The club's Under-18 side won the tie at Wingate & Finchley with a corker of a free-kick from Sonny Blu Lo-Everton and will now play Southampton in the fourth round. They can go into the home tie with plenty of confidence and with something of a reputation as cup specialists. This was their third straight 1-0 win in the cup, following on from the wins in the Herts Senior Challenge Cup over Potters Bar and Leverstock Green. Sarll looks like he has struck the right formula in the knock-out competitions.
“It was a good night for the Academy, a pleasing night and it will be great to play Southampton in the next round,” he said. “I thought we played really well. I'm a little bit disappointed with 1-0 to be honest. We must have had 16 or 17 corners. I thought we were very, very dominant and it was a really good performance. You could see the motivation in the players, and that's lovely when you see that.”
The Hornets came flying out of the traps on an evening that got the teeth chattering. They forced five corners in the first quarter-of-an hour while Ryan Cassidy, Dominic Hutchinson and Blu-Lo Everton went extremely close in the opening 13 minutes. Playing as a No.10, Blu-Lo Everton eventually won it for the Hornets with a curling 75th-minute free-kick of the highest quality.
“He does it all the time,” said “Sarll. “Sometimes I make Harry Hudson take it, but after the balloon he hit in the first half, Sonny had a go. That's his fourth one this season, so four in half-a-season is special.”
Blu-Lo Everton teed up Hutchinson twice after that with glorious chances to make the game safe but they went begging. That left the door ajar for Birmingham and they almost snatched a dramatic equaliser deep into stoppage time, but Tate Campbell, up from centre-half, shot wide with only Dante Baptiste to beat.
“I thought we deserved a bit of luck in the end,” said Sarll. “But you work hard every day to earn that bit of luck. There was a wonderful work ethic from all the players. We looked fit and you know how much emphasis I place on physical fitness and mental resilience. We ran them down and even when you saw a few calf twitches and a few stretches, none of them asked to come off. They all wanted to stay on.”
The result was further evidence that things are moving in the right direction at the top end of the Academy. The Under-23 team have won three of the last five matches, the Under-18s have only lost once in two months while a combined team is through to the quarter-final of the Herts Senior Challenge Cup.
“This team hardly ever plays together and we stitch them together for the cup games and they have to gel as they go along,” said Sarll. “The 18s and the 23s are two very different teams, so you have to try and bring them together, but they did fantastically well. I was really pleased with them tonight.
“The determination and their mentality was great and we are starting to get the wheels moving a little bit. We are starting to put our stamp on it and the people around the players are proper people, real men. You can't produce men without having men around them. The big thing now is keeping the wheels moving as fast, as quick and as often as possible.”
Sarll was particularly pleased with how George Langston shaped up at right-back. The 16-year-old is the son of Matt Langston, who was a pro at the club in the late 90s.
“I thought there some really good performances but George Langston was absolutely magic,” said Sarll. “The lad he marked [Kyle Hurst] plays every week in their 23s and yet George marked well him after coming straight from school to play for us.”
HORNETS: Baptiste (GK); Langston, Tricker, Hudson, Gordon; Sankoh, Phillips, Bennetts; Blu Lo-Everton, Hutchinson, Cassidy (C).
Subs not used: Hoskins (GK), Campbell, Maclean, Mullings, Sesay