Sunday 19 November 2023

Sheffield United (U21s) 4-4 Coventry City (U21s)

Sheffield United (U21s) 4-4 Coventry City (U21s)
Professional Development League
Friday 17th November 2023

A Friday night in Chesterfield, plenty of good players on show, eight goals and loads of unpredictability and entertainment in this game as Sheffield United and Coventry City played out a 4-4 in the PDL (North).

Despite being top of the table, the Blades were nowhere near at their best and if it hadn’t been for Sydie Peck (very impressive, epitomised everything he’s all about, and had one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen from him) then I don’t think they would have got anything whatsoever from this game.

For two-thirds of the 90 minutes, Coventry were the better team and looked good with plenty of stand-out players. Aidan Dausch’s double and Marco Rus’ sweeping strike helped them into a 3-1 lead; they then led 4-2 in the second half thanks to a goal by Callum Perry and looked to be absolutely coasting towards victory, only for United to finally get their act together in the last 20-25 minutes and hit back in style to earn a point.

Bizarrely in the end, the Sky Blues can probably count themselves a bit lucky to have not lost - such was the manner of United’s late performance, and I’ve got little doubt that both teams will have felt a bit frustrated in the dressing room afterwards.

Match Report

Having not seen much football recently (compared to my usual standards), I was really looking forward to this game!

Coventry, despite a few crap and inconsistent results in recent weeks, have always impressed me when I’ve watched them - the last time I saw them play, they beat Hull (partly inspired by Aidan Dausch’s late impact). Callum Perry was also good that night. Riccardo Di Trolio is a solid centre-back with lots of qualities who I’ve liked ever since his U21s debut at Barnsley back in February, whilst Marco Rus (bags of talent and ability and always capable of making something happen) was the Sky Blues best player in this fixture two years ago.

They were all in the starting 11 for Coventry and in Sheffield United’s team were various players who I’ve watched so many times - including a few who’ve made decent impressions at different points such as Evan Easton (who has settled in brilliantly since signing in the summer), Ben Drake (impressive in most games this season), Sydie Peck (back from injury and such a good player), Antwoine Hackford (one of the top scorers in this league this season), Jili Buyabu (the best LWB I’ve seen in Category Two football over the past year) or Andre Brooks (always capable of changing a game with a flash of quality).

So the tone was set nicely!

Coventry also named three over-age players in their line-up (Liam Kelly, Callum O’Hare and Simon Moore) which is permitted under Premier League rules yet despite their extra ‘experience’ it was a familiar story early on as table-topping SUFC drew first blood and went 1-0 up thanks to Sydie Peck’s first of several good involvements as he beat a couple of players on the edge of the box, was really direct, used a bit of trickery to match his tidy footwork and technique, and played a ball towards the back-post which was tucked home by Antwoine Hackford who slipped in between two to convert.

Nevertheless, from that opener up until about five minutes before half-time, it was ALL COVENTRY as they got at the Blades and put them under relentless pressure which was really impressive to witness.

Callum O’Hare used his experience and know-how to create space and wreak havoc. Marco Rus looked sharp and really up for it. Aidan Dausch was a persistent threat showing glimpses yet again of what he’s all about, and the Blades’ youthful three-man defence of Evan Easton, Ben Drake and Dovydas Sasnauskas were given the runaround to a large extent.

Soon enough the latter two of Coventry’s impressive trio combined for a quick equaliser with Rus bursting down the right and sliding in a low ball for Dausch to finish off at the near-post. Well-worked. Well-taken and back on level terms!

Coventry remained on top and Dausch was soon very unlucky not to make it 2-1 when he seemed to sliced a shot narrowly wide of Luke Faxon’s left-hand post having moved well to create half-a-yard of space inside the box and get a quick shot off, but the Sky Blues didn’t have to wait too much longer to go 2-1 up as Rus and Dausch combined once more.

Having jinked past his man to cut inside and into a shooting position, I’ve got no doubt that Marco Rus intended it as a shot when he released the ball goalwards from the edge of the area. It wasn’t a good shot but turned into a brilliant pass as it fell straight into Dausch’s path and what happened next was remarkable as Dausch worked off pure instincts by flicking it up, spinning away from Ben Drake who was perhaps too tight to him, and then cushioning it mid-air on the volley straight into the bottom corner for an absolutely brilliant goal - unbelievable technique!

If 2-1 was good, 3-1 would have felt even better for Coventry and that’s what the scoreline soon became...

In attempting to deal with the ball in the air, Ben Drake and Dovydas Sasnauskas contrived to concede a throw in line with the edge of their own box. When it was taken, Aidan Dausch got the ball inside the area and this time turned provider by laying it back for Marco Rus on the edge of the area, who swept it at the first time of asking up and over Luke Faxon straight into the top corner for a goal which was equally as impressive as the last one.

Devastating from Dausch; Remarkable from Rus… I think Coventry’s Twitter feed was absolutely spot on with that description of both the goals and when you watch them back it just makes you appreciate the quality of the finishes even more! Take a bow lads because if you scored them goals infront of the TV cameras, the commentators would be purring!

At this point, with Coventry looking so commanding and Sheffield United really not looking at their usual standard, you felt as if the game might really start to get away from the Blades.

Instead, step-forward Sydie Peck (literally) because within a minute of having gone 3-1 down, he brilliantly made his second massive contribution of the night to make it 3-2 with a sensational piece of play in which he slalomed his way into the area, past two or three defenders (again) and duly slotted home in a great example of what he can do when he’s given the ball and is at his best. Superb from Sydie!

United suddenly looked rejuvenated and in the five minutes between Sydie’s strike and the half-time whistle, Coventry were hanging on - and the Blades even shouted for a penalty in one of those dubious instances where the ball may have been handled by a defender inside his own box. The appeals were vocal. The referee was unmoved and that was that! 

Breathless stuff but it remained 3-2 at half-time!

Despite Sheffield United initially looking good in the first five minutes after half-time - including another incident where they should have been given a free-kick on the edge of the box when Sydie Peck was charging through in possession and was pulled back only for the referee to close his eyes and wave play on (horrendous how he didn’t give it because it was that blatant), it wasn’t look until Coventry took charge of things again and began to dominate.

And soon enough, they extended their lead to 4-2.

Luke Faxon had just pulled off a fingertip save from Brad Stretton who let fly with an effort from the edge of the box which looked to be curling in until the very last moment, but from the resulting corner, Stretton turned provider for Callum Perry who smashed one in from about eight yards when the ball dropped fortuitously at his feet.

With things looking ominous again, it seemed like the Sky Blues might go on to rack up maybe six or seven goals. Luke Faxon was forced into more good saves, Evan Easton also had to put his body on the line a couple of times to stop other attacks from leading to something more dangerous and Coventry were well in command.

Past the hour mark both teams made a couple of changes. Nicksoen Gomis replaced Ben Drake which gave United a bit more experience they needed, Billy Blacker came on for Fernando Macedo upfront when the Brazilian had to go off injured, and a big change for Coventry occurred when Liam Kelly went off having held things together well in the spine of the Sky Blues team and was replaced by Elliot Betjemann - purposeful and a good player in his own right but without that 400-game experience or know-how (or the bald head) that Liam Kelly has.

These changes set the tone and from about 65-70 minutes all the way through to full-time, the Blades slowly started to get on top, turning that into DOMINANCE and lots of pressure and they were miles the better team who looked more like scoring in the latter stages.

Having been quiet, Jili Buyabu started to push high up the left channel and look more troublesome - especially in one-v-one scenarios where he was a real threat. On the opposite flank, Andre Brooks began to get more involved (after a very quiet first 45 minutes) and he’d already weaved his way past several players on a mazy run and got all the way into the box but just couldn’t quite provide the finish for what would otherwise have been another great goal. But in his next involvement on 78 minutes, Brooksy helped pull one back as he took on his man in open-play, put in a delivery towards the back-post area which ricocheted off the post and back to Nicksoen Gomis who steered the loose ball into the net.

It was now ‘Game On’. Coventry were looking ‘wobbly’ and they were the team now hanging on. Dermi Lusala made a few last-ditch tackles as the pressure intensified in the last quarter-of-an-hour, Riccardo Di Trolio applied himself equally as determinedly in his efforts to keep the ball out by heading away from various set-pieces as Sydie Peck and Sydie Peck remained instrumental in open play where lots of things went through him high up the pitch and he showed lots of threat.

Eventually, the Blades pressure paid off. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Sydie Peck who instigated the equaliser; instead it was Brooksy again as he cut inside and let fly with a vicious 25-yard strike which swerved in mid-air and was parried by Simon Moore only for Billy Blacker to gobble up the rebound at the first time of asking and earn the Blades a deserved point.

The final minutes were played out with a good intensity as both teams went for it.

Again the application of the Coventry backline was top class as they committed everything and put their bodies on the line to make sure they got a point, yet at the other end the Sky Blues went close to carving out a couple of chances on the counter-attack albeit they didn’t come to anything. It was really entertaining and absorbing to watch, you half-wanted the referee to keep until someone scored, but neither team could ultimately find a winner.

Overall Thoughts

On the whole, Coventry will feel disappointed that they played so well in parts and didn’t win - some of the goals will probably frustrate them individually, but likewise such was the ferocity with how Sheffield United fought back they’ll feel disappointed themselves that they couldn’t find a late winner to cap off a good high quality last 20-25 minutes.

Individually, there were lots of contenders for a ‘Man Of The Match’ award.

Marco Rus was good; tidy on the ball, got two assists, proved his end product with his sweeping strike (top technique) for the goal he scored, and it was good to see him make the same kind of really positive impact that I know he’s capable of making. Playing at his best with confidence and with his head up. Even though he only did 45 minutes, long may it continue because when he’s in form and flourishing, he’s a class player and capable of being one of the very best at this level.

Aidan Dausch was impressive. His first goal was simple. His second was ridiculous; touch, turn and BANG and the technique he showed was just way above the standard of what you’d expect from someone his age. Having now seen this performance by him; having watched his impact in the U21s game at Hull, knowing about his four goals in the 8-0 win over Hull in the U18s too, he is a tremendous footballer with bags of talent which you can only appreciate and a player who fans should keep an eye on. Class for his age!

Amongst others in Coventry shirts, Callum O’Hare brought all his experience into the game. Brad Stretton worked hard all the way up to the final whistle which was noticeable - and was only denied a goal due to a great save. Callum Perry was good on the left side; different to where I've seen him play before but he'll be happy to have scored too. Liam Kelly’s influence and experience didn’t go unnoticed. Dermi Lusala put a shift in and it’s always good to watch Riccardo Di Trolio (no fist-pumps or raw passion in this game) but plenty of headers he won; lots he competed for, he won many of his duels and has all the aggressive characteristics and qualities that I like in a defender. He won’t be happy to have conceded four goals but his application was very good as it always is!

And in Sheffield United’s team, Charlie Staniland in the CDM spot rolled his sleeves up and put in a typical ‘grit and graft’ performance which he always does (a likable trait) - nothing spectacular like his goal against Cardiff a few months back where he morphed into Gazza for a few seconds, but tenacious qualities. Andre Brooks was very good in the second half and played a key part in the comeback which he deserves credit for. Jili Buyabu (the best LWB at Category Two level) got better as the game went on - showed his sharpness and quality as the game wore on. Billy Blacker made exactly the impact he was brought on to make which will do his confidence wonders. Femi Seriki was strong; nothing sensational (just another game for him) but he adds to this team with the bit of experience he's got from his previous loans. Nicksoen Gomis was strong and improved the overall performance of the team. And Evan Easton was probably just about the best of the CB’s in Sheffield United’s line-up (a couple of situations where he read situations perfectly and committed himself to win the ball). Bits for Ben Drake and Dovydas Sasnauskas to learn from this game but they’ve shown their qualities in other performances, are in this team on merit, and it’s nothing too much to worry about right now - and the whole defence will get better from experiences such as this one where they come up against quality players.

And without Luke Faxon’s saves, the eventual comeback wouldn’t have been possible because when Coventry were on top at 4-2, Fax made a very impressive save - reacting well to save an effort when Liam Kelly tried to lob him from about 40 yards out which was a very good piece of goalkeeping. He did himself a lot of justice with his performance and it was decent, even if the scoreline at first glance might suggest otherwise.

However, the stand-out player by a mile was Sydie Peck.

The thing I remember most about Sydie is after the PDL Play-Off Final last year when Sheffield United lost to Millwall, he stood alone at the side of the pitch, absolutely gutted and dejected, but deliberately put himself through the ordeal of watching Millwall celebrate way after everyone else had disappeared. That’s his psyche! He was hurting that night but used that scenario as fuel to drive himself to do even more. He wants to be a winner!

And wearing the captain’s armband in this game, he took his personality and character onto the pitch and didn’t hide away when it wasn’t going well for SUFC. Throughout the 90 minutes, he showed a purpose to get the ball (plus get in positions to make himself available to receive it as well - all noticeable), combined with a drive, a desire, an angry and focused determination, an aggression, a proper tenacity, and he took the situation by the scruff of the neck more than anyone else. In adversity (and, believe me, at 4-2 and 3-1 down and playing crap there WAS adversity in this game), those qualities were exactly what was needed. It’s why he’s a leader and why I’ve so much respect for him. On the ball he provided quality (one goal, one assist - fantastic examples of his ability and what he can do). His flight and balance, sharpness, and link-up play was all really good but it was his willingness to just work hard and give EVERYTHING to get back in the game that was superb and what stood out the most.

Without Sydie’s desire (plus also Brooksy’s bits of skill in the second half), then I think Sheffield United would have got hammered in this game. He set such a high benchmark; covered loads of ground as well, during his time out injured he seems to have bulked up with his upper-body strength (certainly compared to last season) and used that at times to keep hold of the ball, and playing like this then I’ve got no doubt he’ll have a good career - he’s found another level and all the characteristics he showed in this game was a pleasure to witness. It’s probably the best I’ve ever seen him play and this performance is one I’ll remember from him for a long time - not just solely due to his goal, but due to his attitude and application. Top quality and a joy to watch!

Sheffield United: Luke Faxon, Femi Seriki, Jili Buyabu, Dovydas Sasnauskas, Evan Easton, Ben Drake (Nicksoen Gomis), Sydie Peck, Charlie Staniland, Antwoine Hackford, Fernando Macedo (Billy Blacker), Andre Brooks. Unused Subs: Ryan Andrews, Jayden Prunty, George Dickinson.

Coventry City: Simon Moore, Dermi Lusala, Riccardo Di Trolio, Luis Binks, Callum Perry, Liam Kelly (Elliot Betjemann), Marco Rus (Kai Andrews), Evan Eghosa, Bradley Stretton, Aidan Dausch, Callum O'Hare. Unused Subs: Finley Osborn, Rylie Siddall, Jayden Smith.

Sunday 12 November 2023

Edinburgh University 0-4 Hearts B

Edinburgh University 0-4 Hearts B 
Lowland League
Saturday 11th November 2023

Having watched Hearts B Team wallop plenty of others in the Lowland League and play some really good football on occasions, this was a straightforward afternoon for them - nothing too exciting or exhilarating; simply a case of ‘getting the job done’ against rock bottom Edinburgh University.

On a typical pitch for this time of year and opponents who put a lot of bodies behind the ball and couldn’t be faulted for their application or endeavour (and who possibly deserved a goal at the other end), the Wee Jambos looked very comfortable for the large part. They didn’t really need to get out of second gear and had the points wrapped up by half-time courtesy of finishes by Callum Sandilands, Mak Kirk and Bobby McLuckie, before a frustrating second half where they had a bagful of chances but only added one more goal to their tally through Kirky which was his 20th league goal of the campaign.

Ahead of the game, Hearts probably had two objectives:

1) To win (and avoid any kind of banana-skin).
2) To play better than in last week’s defeat to Stirling University which by all accounts was one of those disappointing performances you get from time to time.

Therefore, making an early breakthrough against the Lowland League’s whipping boys was crucial to avoid potential problems and it took 15 minutes for it to happen!

On what was apparently his 50th appearance for the B Team in the Lowland League (the most of anyone in the squad), Callum Sandilands was the scorer and he took his goal well with a well-placed low effort steered past the Edinburgh University ‘keeper into the bottom-right corner after Bobby McLuckie’s left-wing cross reached him via Mak Kirk’s lay-off inside the area.

Kirky then took less than two minutes to grab a goal himself as Kenzi Nair’s ball over the top landed in that problematic gap between the defence and ‘keeper and with Lewis Gallacher rushing off his line, the Hearts talisman took it around him and duly slotted home despite the best efforts of a couple of defenders who were scampering back in a desperate effort to narrow the angle.

At this point, I wondered if there was going to be a repeat scoreline of this fixture last November when the Wee Jambos scored nine because at 2-0 after just 17 minutes, it looked ominous for the struggling students.

Although Edinburgh did raise their game and get better, it didn’t stop the scoreline itself becoming worse for them - Mak Kirk was denied when the home ‘keeper rushed off his line to thwart him (the chance again coming from a ball over the defence) but just a few minutes after that chance, Bobby McLuckie producing a sweeping finish to make it 3-0 about 15 seconds after some really good hunting in packs and pressing in numbers high up the pitch (Ryan Duncan heavily involved in this particular instance) which was a good trait that Hearts showed throughout this game. 

However, in the period from Hearts’ second goal being scored up to the half-time whistle, Edinburgh came into things a bit more. They probably knew the game was lost already but they seemed determined to play with a freedom and try and express themselves positively, get at Hearts and get something to show for their effort, and on a different day, playing like they did in this period against a ‘lesser’ opponent in the Lowland League, they might have even pinched something.

They were dealt a blow when their RB went off injured on about 25 minutes (he did alright and was having a good game up to his injury) and although they continued to look indecisive and vulnerable at the back - and as if they could lose the ball quite cheaply at any given moment, further forward they attempted to get the ball down and play a bit and it led to 3-4 little openings which they didn’t take.

Lewis Hendry (No.10) lashed one over from 20 yards when he snatched at it and had time on his side to do better, Kenzi Nair made a decent block at one point, Will Antoniuk (No.4) flashed a low shot wide of Liam McFarlane’s right-hand post in another instance, big Liam also had to come off his line to claim one or two things and when Ryan Murray (No.6) got into the box just before half-time having got away from Kenzi Nair, he couldn’t quite bring it onto his left-foot and get a shot on target.

Hearts knew they were still in command (even if they weren’t playing vintage football) with it remaining 3-0 by the break and although Edinburgh looked bright for a five-minute spell at the start of second half where they again continued to try and work the ball into attacking areas, with temperatures dropping and it starting to feel really cold around Peffermill (at this point I was starting to realise I should have brought my coat), the Wee Jambos wrestled the initiative and soon began to create chance after chance.

Murray Thomas was unlucky not to find the net with a free-kick from just outside the box which clipped the crossbar whilst Callum Sandilands nearly found Mak Kirk with a cross as pressure was applied in search of a fourth goal.

And when the fourth goal eventually came just before the hour mark, it was through one of Hearts’ best moves of the game. Adam Forrester showed a lot of aggression, bite and tenacity on the right flank at times - pushing high and driving whenever he could and he played a key role with a piercing ball which released Callum Sandilands who looked as if he might score himself but was instead forced tight to the byline where his cutback across goal was turned home by Kirky from only a yard out.

Edinburgh continued to push for a consolation and David Maskrey (No.7) went close when he flashed one across goal and wide but largely, by the final quarter of the game, all the action was down at the other end.

Mack Ross stung the keeper’s gloves when he came on. Bobby McLuckie also went close with a deflected effort that fell just the wrong side of the post. Callum Sandilands was denied via a last-ditch tackle having brilliantly burst past his man to get goal side and into the box before the defender recovered in the nick of time. Mak Kirk was also in the thick of things. And even when Edinburgh’s first-choice ‘keeper had to go off injured and be replaced by Smith Samuel, the sub goalie was in inspired form and performed superbly - clawing away a deflected effort by Kirky which looked as if it was going to creep in, then pulling off a save from the penalty spot to deny the big man his hat-trick after he was sent sprawling, before being at full-stretch to keep out a ferocious 30-yard strike by Callum Sandilands in injury-time as the shots kept coming in and denying James Wilson even deeper into the four added minutes.

Those saves, combined with the students having so many players back behind the ball, plus a few poor bits of decision-making in one or two instances and also bad luck (which happens) all meant there were no further goals - and certainly when I woke up at 4.30am to make the 500-mile round trip to watch this game, I didn’t for one second think that I’d see two ‘keepers keep clean-sheets in this game!

Overall though, the result was a fair reflection and to be expected.

Hearts weren’t at their best by any means and there’s bits that could have been better - decision-making in the final third a couple of times (when to shoot and when to pass) because despite the ‘low block’ tactics and EU putting so many bodies behind the ball, there could have still been a few more goals. But the lads didn’t really need to get out of second gear to win this game. They made the breakthrough early (that was the important thing in terms of getting the win), Bobby McLuckie’s goal for 3-0 wrapped it up and put the result beyond doubt and it was steady rather than spectacular for 90 minutes. EU were alright going forward (no end product sadly) and their application/endeavour can’t be faulted, but they also looked very vulnerable at the back and it’s not hard to work out why they’ve struggled all season and face a battle to avoid relegation this season.

Credit to them though because when they went behind, there were a couple of groans and moans - the quick second goal could have really sunk them. But they didn’t cave or get hammered like they did in this game last season and they ought to take a little bit of confidence from that moving forward.

Individually for Hearts, there wasn’t too much to shout about given what this game was - the next fixture at East Kilbride (who having beat Cumbernauld Colts yesterday look as if they might run away with the title) will be a real challenge and where more learning is done.

Amongst a few contributions, Luke Rathie’s distribution was good - he must have tried the ball over the top about 10 times (possibly a bit too often) but the accuracy of the passes themselves were decent and I’m not sure how he got penalised early in the first half when he won a header and was judged to have fouled his opponent at the same time. Bizarre decision that one was! Adam Forrester looked aggressive and battled throughout the game and they were good characteristics; a little bit of needle with EU’s No.7 (interesting to watch and never a bad thing) and his best contribution was undoubtedly for the fourth goal where the quality of his pass to Callum Sandilands in the build up was of a really high standard. Callum Sandilands finished his goal really well and on a different day might have had another hat-trick to celebrate (like in this fixture last season), but getting on the score-sheet himself isn’t a bad way to celebrate the milestone of 50 appearances in the Lowland League and that bulky experience for his age can only serve him well. Kirky will be happy with his two goals to take his tally for the season to 20 - a good landmark and good on him for being so prolific, albeit I’ve got no doubts he’ll be kicking himself not to have got another hat-trick when he had so many chances (just no luck at times) in the game before the penalty near the end. Harry Gordon (took up some very clever positions and got the ball in good/effective areas in his 30 minutes) and James Wilson (sharp and involved in lots of things inside the box - using his pace to cause problems and worthy of a goal/assist which didn’t quite materialise) also both performed quite well when they came on.

‘Steady and Straightforward’ is a description of how I’ll remember this game though!

I won’t be at East Kilbride in a fortnight for the rearranged fixture - even though I’d like to see that one because I know it’s going to be a good challenge for the boys where they’ll have to be switched on and alert for 90 minutes to achieve a result against the potential league champions, but weather and train strikes permitting, I’ll be at Gretna on Saturday 2nd December.

Up the Wee Jambos!

Team: Liam McFarlane, Ethan Drysdale (Bailey Dall), Kenzi Nair, Luke Rathie, Adam Forrester, Mac Tait, Callum Sandilands, Ryan Duncan (Harry Gordon), Bobby McLuckie (Mack Ross), Murray Thomas (James Wilson), Mak Kirk. Unused Subs: Jack McConnell, Kai Smutek.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Doncaster Rovers 2-1 Burton Albion

Doncaster Rovers 2-1 Burton Albion
EFL Trophy
Tuesday 7th November 2023

The best thing about the EFL Trophy is the opportunities it gives to young players and this is a night which Ronny Wakelin and Dylan Scott will remember for years to come, as they made their professional debuts for Burton Albion.

Both are part of a very good Burton U18s team who currently sit top of the North-East Youth Alliance and are in a very good position to challenge for the title (either them or Grimsby will win it - and there’s not much between either), and they’re also through to the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup where they’ll be favourites against Chester-Le-Street United.

Dylan was top scorer in the Youth Alliance last season with roughly 30 league goals to his name, Ronny is a tough and tenacious midfielder who has been consistently impressive, both are proper down to earth and have good attitudes, both were on the bench in the Brewers’ FA Cup game at Port Vale on Saturday, and both came on as second half substitutes in this game wearing the No.38 and No.39 shirts, respectively, in a moment which will have made their families proud - plus Ronny’s good mate Jono Bland (captain of Barnsley’s U18s) who was hiding away just behind me in one of the exec boxes.

They aren’t the first young players to make their debut in this fixture in this competition because back in October 2014, Mitchell Lund and Billy Whitehouse were given their debuts for Doncaster, the following season Paul McKay featured in a 0-0 draw in September (all of this when the EFL Trophy was still in it’s old knockout format too) and on that memorable sunny final day of the 2015/16 when Burton celebrated promotion to the Championship and Donny went down to League Two, Will Longbottom also made his debut for Rovers.

So just a little bit of history repeating… but for lads in Burton shirts this time!

Another player who made his debut in this competition was Louis Jones and that was against another team beginning with the letter ‘B’ (Bradford - in the behind-closed-doors Covid era) and a late change to Donny’s starting line-up, meant his appearance in this game was his 50th for DRFC at first team level - and, to this day, he remains the only ‘keeper to have come from the academy and played in the first team since Rovers’ academy was reformed back in 2004. Not a bad accolade!

Louis Jones wasn’t far off celebrating this little landmark with a clean-sheet either because on a night when my presence stopped Rovers equaling their lowest ever crowd for a competitive game at the Keepmoat Stadium (1,068 last night; 1,067 vs Everton a few months ago), Rovers raced into a 2-0 lead which puts them in the next round and they had things wrapped up before Beryly Lubala’s curling late strike for the Brewers set up a nervy finish.

It wasn’t the most classic of games but Rovers were good value and deserved the win.

After Mo Faal got the opener in pretty much the first chance of any kind, Jack Goodman (starting - and someone else to have progressed from youth football to first team - and with a good scoring record too) should have doubled the lead before half-time when he got in-between the Brewers defence and ‘keeper Jamal Blackman who’d come charging out and had an open goal to aim at but couldn’t get his effort on target.

Jack Blackman atoned with a decent flying save from Kyle Hurst’s attempt which was heading straight for the top corner just after half-time before Rovers finally made it 2-0 when Hurst finished off a decent move with a sweeping finish from inside the penalty area.

At this point, step-forward Ronny Wakelin because when he entered the fray immediately after that second goal in a double change alongside Beryly Lubala, Burton seemed to wake up a bit and get their act together. Straight away he was pressing well and showing a willingness to work hard, get the ball and make something happen and although he found Row K with a long-range shot which got a few ironic cheers from the home end, soon afterwards Lubala showed him how it’s done with a sweeping finish to make it 2-1 with about 10 minutes to go.

With the game having kicked off 15 minutes late due to Burton being caught in traffic and in the knowledge that Mansfield had lost to Everton’s U21s, Rovers had the knowledge at this point that if they held on and achieved the win then they’d be through to Round Two and although Dylan Scott tried his utmost to make something happen once he’d come on for Cole Stockton, he couldn’t quite get a chance to show what he can do infront of goal as Rovers held out during the closing stages plus four extra minutes for injury-time.

Burton can still qualify for the next round for the next round as their game with Mansfield at the Pirelli Stadium in a couple of weeks will be a ‘Winner Takes It All’ affair (cue some Abba on the pre-match music no doubt) and hopefully Dylan and Ronny will be trusted to notch up another appearance in their early careers.

Well done on earning your debuts!


Slough Town 1-1 Grimsby Town

Slough Town 1-1 Grimsby Town
FA Cup First Round
Sunday 5th November 2023