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Jack Rogers scores the late dramatic equaliser

When watch a football match you can never know what to expect but last night’s FA Youth Cup tie between Burnley and Birmingham City was a game that certainly didn’t disappoint.

On the same Monday a year ago I was at Leyland for the third round tie against Norwich. In that game we went 1-0 up through Joe Westley, conceded a goal in the second half to take the game into extra time at 1-1, fell behind in extra time before Lucas Wane scored a late equaliser to take us into a penalty shoot-out which we won 7-6.

I thought it was worth mentioning this game but now, moving on to last night’s tie against Birmingham, the best team in our under-18 league, where the night got off to a less than positive start when we found a large Blackburn Rovers flag placed behind us in the stand.

Reporting on a game at this level is more difficult for me now in terms of the players. Where once I would have seen a good number of youth team games by this stage of the season, this was just my second with the previous one way back in August. It means many of the players are now unrecognisable although I have seen some of them play in under-21 games.

It had me thinking, because of this, that I wouldn’t bother to try and report the game but such was the entertainment on view, it really is necessary to put something on record.

With the flag suitably hidden from view, the game kicked off and it didn’t take us long to grab the initiative. It all started well for us and we were in front as early as the fourth minute. Joe Ashton found Lucas Wane down the left hand side. Wane got into the box and his cross shot was only parried by Birmingham keeper Olly Sayer and straight into the path of Zach Johnson who tucked the ball home.

For some time during the first half we were so much the better team and I suspect had we been able to extend that lead during this period, we’d probably have gone on to win the game comfortably. We didn’t unfortunately and the game began to even out in what I have to describe as horrendous conditions. As the rain poured down, it was at times difficult to pick out the players under the Leyland lights.

We got to half time with the score still at 1-0 and with the rain having eased, we enjoyed a cracking second half with chances at both ends. We had some defending to do at times but we restricted them in terms of chances, that was until the 80th minute when, with Ashton down injured in our own box, Birmingham’s Alessandro da Silva crossed the ball. It looked to deflect off a defender but what is certain is the ball nestling in the net and it was all level and like a year ago we were going into extra time.

As we prepared to start the extra thirty minutes, my mind went back eleven years to that incredible night at Old Trafford when we beat Manchester United 4-3 after extra time. I was sat with a then senior member of our youth department Jeff Taylor who questioned the wisdom of players at this age having to play an extra half an hour.

Last year, much of extra time was spent with players going down with cramp, it brought it to light again. Added to all this, the stoppage time played at the end of the four periods last night was also in excess of twenty minutes. That’s a long time for these players and again, last night, we saw a number of stoppages as players went down with cramp.

Even so, the two teams continued to provide great entertainment but disappointingly for us it was Birmingham who got themselves in front with just under six minutes of the second half of extra gone. A long ball down the right saw Briar Bateman get the better of Jack McEvilly. His shot hit the near post but came out for Menzi Mazwi to hit home from around the eighteen yard line.

There wasn’t long left but we gave it a real go although we still trailed 2-1 as the board went up for a final three extra minutes. It needed a dramatic end for us to get back into it and it got one. With two of those minutes gone, Birmingham substitute Zaid Betteka slid in unnecessarily on Brandon Ly. It was a clear yellow card, and he got it. Unfortunately for him, it was his second and thus the red card followed.

By the time we restarted we were past the three minutes. Captain Jack Rogers had already moved up front as Burnley desperately looked to rescue things and goalkeeper Lewis Forshaw joined the throng for this final opportunity.

The impressive Callum West crossed the ball. It looked as if under-16 substitute Brandon Pouani got his head to it but very definitely it was Rogers who hit home to level things and take it into a penalty shoot-out.

The game had followed the same pattern as last season’s tie against Norwich although this time our equaliser had come much later. As the two teams gathered around their coaches, it was the Birmingham players who needed lifting while maybe our players needed to be brought back to earth.

As was the case a year ago, we went down to the Brian Pilkington end for the penalties and, as was the case a year ago, it was the opposition who went first. Birmingham grabbed an advantage too, not once but twice.

Birmingham scored their first but Wane, so reliable usually from the spot, saw his effort hit the post. It wasn’t the start we wanted but Birmingham had their second penalty saved to allow Rohan Vaughan to score for us. That was 1-1 with two gone each.

We were behind again when Birmingham scored their third after which Vernon Masara saw his penalty saved. When they then scored their fourth, it looked all over at 3-1.

West scored for us to take it to 3-2, had he not done so we were out. Mazwi then came forward to win it for Birmingham. Incredibly, his effort sailed so way over the bar and that allowed McEvilly to bring us right back into it. He made no mistake.

All five gone, it was 3-3, and goalkeeper Forshaw became the hero when he saved Birmingham’s sixth. Oli Pimlott came next and when his penalty went into win it for us, there was pandemonium on the pitch as players were joined by the bench and those team mates not involved.

The win had been dramatic again. It had been an outstanding evening’s entertainment. Yes, I’m delighted we won and I think we’d have been very unfortunate not to. But this game was a credit to the competition and to the players of both clubs.

The teams were;

Burnley: Lewis Forshaw, Logan Carlin, Jack Rogers, Jack McEvilly, Joe Ashton (Oli Pimlott 101), Zach Johnson (Vernon Masara 63), Brandon Ly, Adam McCoy (Brandon Pouani 97), Callum West, Lucas Wane, Benji Wetshi (Rohan Vaughan ht). Subs not used: Felix Chester, Marley Leuluai, Luca Jackson.

Birmingham: Olly Sayer, Byron Pendleton, Taylor Dodd, Zach Willis, Cameron Eubank, Alessandro da Silva, Menzi Mazwi, Frank Tattum, Ellis O’Shea, Alvaro Ruiz Rente, Stoyan Pergelov. Subs: Riquelme Thompson-Jones, Ty Warmington, Will Burrell, Briar Bateman, George Wynne, Aurellien Gurnier, Zaid Betteka.

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