Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Millwall (U21s) 2-1 Sheffield United (U21s)

Millwall (U21s) 2-1 Sheffield United (U21s)
Professional Development League National Play-Off Final
Monday 22nd May 2023

After a pulsating game on Saturday where South Yorkshire triumphed over South London in the U18s PDL National Play-Off Final, this encounter in the U21s age group was equally as absorbing and tense and it could have gone either way.

But in emotions which were the polar opposite to Barnsley’s game with Charlton at the weekend, there was to be no ‘double’ for South Yorkshire as Sheffield United were beaten 2-1 in extra-time by Millwall - and thus a long bus trip back home afterwards.

It’s been an absolute pleasure watching Sheffield United at U21s level this year; they’ve got good players, incredible depth, they absolutely romped to the PDL North title, and of the 142 games I’ve seen (can finally have a break now) some of the best football I’ve seen and which I’ve enjoyed the most has come from these lads.

They are class - so it’s for all those reasons that I really wanted to be at this game, to give them their support on the biggest night of their careers (up to now) and in the most hostile and notorious surroundings of them all at The Den too. I just wasn’t going to miss it.

Millwall is renowned for being a tough place to go and even though the feelings of being beaten will rankle for a while to come - it’s the start they made that will particularly linger (and where the lads will spend a lot of time reflecting on this game).

Backed by their noisy home crowd who were given a reason to get excited by the aggressive start Millwall made, the Blades just weren’t ‘at it’ in the opening minutes and after a couple of close shaves as the Lions signaled their intentions and all looked like terrific players, they finally made that breakthrough on 10 minutes when Aidomo Emakhu’s low drive from the edge of the box was parried by Luke Faxon and the rebound was gobbled up by Romain Esse.

The start the Blades made wasn’t good at all.

It looked disjointed; it lacked intensity. The passing (so often so crisp and sharp) was awry. It just wasn’t clicking and the lads rode their luck at times in keeping it to just 1-0 - especially when Kyle Smith (I think) went to ground under a challenge inside the box and the referee appeared to point to the penalty spot at first, only to change his mind and give a free-kick right on the byline outside the box and it was a relief that whole incident was defended properly and came to nothing.

As half-time approached, the Blades finally started to get on top, look threatening and dangerous and show what they’ve done so well at times this season.

Sydie Peck had a good game anyway and with a couple of crunching tackles, plus a whack in the face which left him with a bloody nose that temporarily had to be plugged, even in the early stages he was something of a driving force and probably the best player in a United shirt - aggressively trying so hard to create a tempo and some momentum. Miguel Freckleton (three good passes out from the back to feet) was another who looked bright early on, and then as Louie Marsh (some neat touches), Andre Brooks (got the ball more after a quiet start) and Will Osula (some flashes of what he’s all about) all started to get more involved, it brought about a sustained spell of pressure just before half-time.

It nearly culminated in an equaliser as Andre Brooks cut inside, silkily moved the ball onto his stronger foot and unleashed a thunderous drive which rattled off the woodwork, before the rebound was blocked and Louie Marsh’s eventual follow-up was parried over by a back-peddling home ‘keeper.

A few other balls went low into the box and just wouldn’t quite drop for anyone in a red and white shirt as Millwall defended well - in particular Chinwike Okoli (No.6) who was tremendous, strong and solid and Kyle Smith (No.5) who also did well, but they did ride their luck too.

It was frustrating that the half-time whistle went when it did. Millwall looked dangerous whenever they went forward and their front players (No.7, No.9, No.10 and No.11) all looked a proper handful (and Connor Barratt had so much to do in that first half), but in the last 10 minutes before the interval, all the momentum was with the Blades. Millwall were being pushed back. They were on the back-foot, soaking up the pressure and fortunate to have had the little bits of luck to ‘hang on’ and preserve their 1-0 advantage.

That said, even though the Blades started the second half in the same aggressive tone and continued to have the territory for the first five minutes or so, Millwall went within a whisker of making it 2-0 - and a goal which really would have been huge in the context of the game as Nana Boateng flashed a ball into the box and Aidomo Emakhu somehow struck the post before the ball ricocheted across the goal-line and somehow span wide of the opposite post. How did he miss? Another shot soon afterwards also drew a save from Luke Faxon and now the Blades were hanging on a bit.

Games often ride on those big moments and the second goal was always going to be crucial but having overcome that little spell where the Millwall crowd got noisy again, soon enough United got on top again. The passing was improving. The intensity was improving. You sensed something was coming and soon enough, the equaliser arrived as Will Osula’s took a touch, moved inside and unleashed a curling drive with venom which clipped the post, hit the ‘keeper on the ground and left Sydie Peck with a simple tap-in as he was quickest to react for a follow-up.

BOOM! 1-1 - and having got back level, this was the moment to really take things by the scruff of the neck, go at Millwall, attack them whilst they were like a wounded animal and really seize the initiative and turn things around. A quickfire second goal - similar to what happened in the win over Barnsley in March, was exactly what was needed now.

And even though there were a couple of chances; Jili Buyabu (who was given the ball much more to get involved in the second half) cramping up after he lashed one over on the back of an intense move where the ball was moved really well around the box, and Will Osula and Andre Brooks going close, that ‘momentum’, that ‘intensity’ seemed to fizzle out a bit as minutes passed.

A turning point in the game came when United won a cheap free-kick near the touchline, took it quickly, ultimately lost the ball and Finley Potter had to bring down his man right on the edge of the box for which he was booked. It woke the Millwall fans up again! And even though he blocked the free-kick (ball straight into his already bandaged head), with some visibly tired legs and 4-5 players in red and white shirts cramping up or struggling at different points, as the game went into extra-time, it was Millwall who now seemed to have that bit more bite about them.

Again, games always rest on certain moments - and it could have been different had Levis Pitan not seen a header kept out by Millwall's keeper in extra-time whilst it was still 1-1. The connection was perfect. The save was superb. Had it gone in then who knows?

But losing Finley Potter, just prior to that chance, through injury was a major setback. Connor Barratt (someone else who gave everything) cramped up and couldn’t carry on around a similar time, early into extra-time. There were other tired legs as well because the lads had given everything.

And when Sai Sachdev gave away a free-kick right on the byline and then received treatment straight after it - thus meaning he was unable to come back on before it was taken, it proved critical as Nino Adam-Malaki’s free-kick was clipped to the back-post where Chinwike Okoli rose highest and powered a header into the net. 

A moment he’ll remember for the rest of his life but a horrible, glum feeling if you didn’t want Millwall to win!

As the home fans exploded into raptures, it seemed like they had it in the bag. They had the momentum again, they had the spirit, they had the lead, that little adrenaline-rush to fuel an extra spring in their step, it was in their hands and it was always going to be difficult for United - and although I don’t think Millwall’s players particularly wasted time or anything in extra-time (which, in the same position, I certainly would have done), they just put men behind the ball and defended just as they’d done throughout to hold out in the second period of extra-time and get their hands on the trophy.

The emotions and feelings after the final whistle amongst the Blades players will rankle for a while and if there’s one bit of advice I’d give them, it’s just to remember it, store it, never forget those moments - the frustration and use it as fuel for the future.

Louie Marsh was in his zone; shirt over his head in his own world - gutted and wondering what might have been (some nice touches, bits of involvement but not able to get the chances he’s buried all season or the slices of luck at times throughout the whole 120 minutes). Just not his night. Likewise for Will Osula. Sydie Peck - a driving force who played his heart out and had one of his best performances I’ve seen in a while and epitomised all the heart you’d want from a captain, stood alone and watched the celebrations - absorbing it, hurting. Oliver Arblaster; another with so much talent. But just not his night either.

The lads gave it everything. They tried. They wanted it. They had spells. But, overall, it just didn’t click and sometimes things are just not meant to be - no matter how hard you try! 

However, as I said right at the start - win or lose, these lads have got my support for the long haul. They’ve got quality within them, flashes of brilliance which has been evident at so many points during the season, it’s been a pleasure to watch them - individually, collectively and they’ve got so much to be proud about. This result doesn’t define them. It hurts, but they have to react from it now and, even though it didn’t click by and large in this game, they ought to take comfort from playing their part in a quality football match where the standard was so high. 

I’ve seen 1,700 games (and a few more) and when I look back at the team-sheet from this night in 4 or 5 years down the line, I’ve got no doubt in the slightest that a significant number of the players who featured (from both teams) will be playing at a decent standard. This is just the start for them all, they will get better - it doesn’t change the glum feelings of disappointment or the frustrations at what went wrong during the game itself, but when the dust settles, they ought to be happy with some of the things they’ve achieved this season.

And in 2023/24; with first loans likely for some, a chance to ‘put right’ this wrong and go for the PDL National title again, chances to establish themselves potentially on the horizon for some of the others, they all have so much to look forward to.

The last word must go to Millwall though.

Although Sheffield United probably had more possession and territory and played the better football, the Lions had a clear blueprint in how they played, were competitive, were physical, gave a very good account of themselves and created the better goalscoring opportunities and they’ll be delighted to have won the title infront of their own fans and friends and families and they’ll treasure these memories forever. Had they not won, the first half ‘penalty’ incident or that miss in the second half (which can be laughed about now) will have been the key moments they’ll have been left pondering.

Right across the team they were strong. Nino Adom-Malaki (No.3) got up and down the flank quite well, was good on the overlap at finding space and a good player in the first half. Kyle Smith (No.5) was involved in the ‘penalty’ incident (of sorts) in the first half I think which came about through clever play and he defended very well at the other end when he was up against Louie Marsh. Chinwike Okoli (No.6) was absolutely rock solid; the person I’d give any ‘Man Of The Match’ award too (even before he scored his goal) - and nearly every time Will Osula got the ball, he had his back to goal and it was difficult for him. That’s all because Okoli showed him away, marked him so well, stuck to him tightly and just gave an outstanding contribution. Then he went and scored the winner, and anyone who watched this game will certainly have been impressed by him - and I’ll certainly remember his name and be checking on his progress over the next few years. And further up the pitch, the whole attacking quartet - if you include the No.7 (Romain Esse) and No.11 (Nana Boateng) posed problems, were direct, in torturous form during that first 30 minutes where they really had the grit between their teeth. It’s obvious why they’ve scored so many goals as a team this season and they possess so much quality.

Fair play to them because they didn’t mess about and waste time in extra-time by feigning injury when that tactic could quite easily have been adopted. It takes a good team to stop these lads at Sheffield United and Millwall’s spirit and togetherness and collective performance - even by the lads I’ve not mentioned specifically was good and of a high standard. The result could have gone either way (that’s football) but enjoy the memories, cherish the medals and good luck in the careers which I’m certain quite a few of you boys will have! 

And after a season of 142 games (the most I’ve ever done) I’m now having a little rest for a few weeks!

Millwall: Joe Wright, George Walker, Nino Adam-Malaki, Shamar Lawson, Kyle Smith, Chinwike Okoli, Romain Esse, Alfie Allen, Aidomo Emakhu, Abdul Abdulmalik, Nana Boateng. Subs: Frankie Hvid, Dillion Addai, Josh Stephenson, Finley Cotton, Frankie Baker.

Sheffield United: Luke Faxon, Sai Sachdev, Jili Buyabu, Finley Potter, Connor Barratt, Miguel Freckleton, Sydie Peck, Oliver Arblaster, Will Osula, Louie Marsh, Andre Brooks. Subs: Levis Pitan, Callum Yam, Charlie Staniland, Josh Smith, Theo Williams.

Saturday, 20 May 2023

Barnsley (U18s) 2-2 Charlton Athletic (U18s)

Barnsley (U18s) 2-2 Charlton Athletic (U18s)
Professional Development League Play-Off Final
Saturday 20th May 2023

Oh what a feeling and what an afternoon!

Less than 24 hours after a dramatic night under the Oakwell floodlights which will be talked about for years to come, this was another absolute belter of a match where a Barnsley team CREATED HISTORY and memories they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives as the U18s were crowned Professional Development League National Champions for 2022/23.

On a sun-drenched South Yorkshire afternoon, it was a pulsating game as the pendulum swung back and forth throughout almost three hours of unpredictable drama - even by Play-Off standards, and players on both teams gave it absolutely everything in a quality football game that will live long in the memory.

There were nerves. There was tension. There was hope. There was anguish. 

It was the ultimate emotional roller-coaster complete with joy, despair, frustration and delight at different stages for everyone involved until, eventually, utter pandemonium and an explosion of noise and euphoria upon the season-defining moment right at the end when Rogan Ravenhill beat away Kai Enslin’s effort to win it for Barnsley in a penalty shoot-out which went all the way to sudden death!

It was some afternoon so sit tight, fasten your seat-belts - this is exactly what happened!

With Barnsley having won the PDL North and Charlton being PDL South champions; the two teams having scored over 160 goals combined over the course of the season, this was always likely to be a closely-fought contest that could go the distance. A meeting of the two best Category Two teams in the country right now, both proven winners with plenty of memories to savior already this term, but both equally determined to conquer the other and with their eyes fixed on the most cherished prize of becoming National Champions.

As the two teams made their way out onto the Oakwell turf on the back of some banging pre-match warm-up tunes (kudos to the PA man for ‘Wonderwall’), it wasn’t surprising that with so much at stake, the early stages were a bit tentative, a bit scrappy with little in the way of incident or action at either end inside the first 15 minutes.

Charlton initially settled better and looked lively in the opening few minutes but soon enough Barnsley took charge, got a grip on things, and just past the quarter-hour mark came a sustained period of pressure in which they created a flurry of quickfire openings as Fabio Jalo firstly scuffed a shot wide after a good run into the box by Vimal Yoganathan, then Josh McKay unleashed a powerful drive which seemed to hit Josiah Dyer and go over from just a few yards out on the back of a passage of play where the Reds moved the ball around the final third quite purposefully, before the best chance of the lot saw a shot finally put on target after Fabio Jalo tricked his man, burst away, but saw his attempt parried over by the visiting ‘keeper.

It was aggressive stuff; with purpose and with meaning, but still that opening goal remained elusive - and on the half-hour mark came another near miss when Fabio Jalo (always a threat at this level) flashed a ball through the goalmouth which narrowly missed Josiah Dyer.

Charlton will probably admit themselves they weren’t at their best in the first half. 

They certainly didn’t look like a team that thrashed Sheffield United with such devastating ruthlessness to book their place in this Play-Off Final and even when they won set-pieces in high areas, they never seemed to be in too much of a rush to get on with things.

Barnsley looked far brighter. They had the urgency and tempo to go with their superior possession and soon enough, they were literally handed the chance to take the lead as Hayden Pickard’s cross was handled by a Charlton defender. There was a brief delay; the referee giving himself a split second or two to think about what he’d just witnessed, before he pointed to the spot. Penalty. And no great appeals from the visiting to say otherwise.

Step forward, Theo Chapman to give Barnsley the lead - and with one swing of his right foot he obliged; a little stutter in his run-up but sending the ball low, hard, and just past the ‘keeper who guessed correctly, but couldn’t keep his shot out.

Cue the celebrations; Rogan Ravenhill kneeling and then leaping into the air with a little fist pump for good measure as the ball hit the net and ‘Zombie Nation’ played aloud across Oakwell. Screams of ‘Yesssssssss’ in the stands, Theo Chapman being mobbed by his team-mates and Jono Bland (sensible as ever) reassuring everyone to get their focus, stay switched on and go again.

The breakthrough was made but there was still a long way to go!

As half-time approached Barnsley continued to look strong and they soon so nearly had what would have been a stunning second goal when Hayden Pickard’s scintillating strike on the half-volley from the edge of the area looked as if it was going to do the business. It was on target. It was going in - and then out of nowhere came Ahmed Kone who leaped towards his top corner and clawed it away. Josiah Dyer followed up on the rebound and although there were semi-celebrations, everyone soon realised the linesman (correctly) had his flag up for offside so the goal wouldn’t count.

Oakwell drew its breath as the first half came to an end.

There was no ‘Halfway There and Living On A Prayer’ by Bon Jovi on the half-time playlist; instead some Billy Ocean, and perhaps inspired by ‘Red Light Spells Danger’ which played just as the second period was about to get underway, Charlton suddenly looked much better and more up for it than at any point in the first half.

They’d already gone close when Rogan Ravenhill was required to save from a visiting striker at his near-post before they found an equaliser as Henry Rylah planted home a header at close-range after Daniel Kanu’s run, burst into the box and subsequent cross which was hooked up nicely for his team-mate to connect with.

Now at 1-1, everything was in the balance again.

It was starting to get tense around Oakwell and as the hour-mark came, Barnsley caught a second wind and battered their opponents with another flurry of quick chances. Fabio Jalo and Josiah Dyer got in each other’s way and allowed the Charlton ‘keeper to collect a loose ball after some good work out wide by Josh McKay who hooked up a fine cross towards the back-post, before a bigger chance came when Jalo burst into the box and hammered a vicious low drive into the near-post which had to be turned behind for a corner.

The pressure was building and from Hayden Pickard’s resulting corner, Vimal Yoganthan connected; the header was good, sadly the ball went wide. Still 1-1. 

Charlton were on the ropes once again and just a minute later came a proper ‘heart in mouth’ moment for them when Fabio Jalo sprung the offside trap and burst through. It looked dubious but he didn’t care, and when Ahmed Kone came to meet him he was sent tumbling by the Charlton ‘keeper. All eyes on the referee who waved the appeal away, cue plenty of boos by those who were convinced otherwise, and with the ball still loose, Jalo instinctively got to his feet and hooked a ball across the goalmouth from the byline which narrowly missed Josiah Dyer.

The goal Barnsley craved felt like it was getting closer and closer and with the intensity building, tensions were also simmering, and tempers soon boiled over when Fabio Jalo was released down the right again and tussled with Harvey Kedwell. The pair grappled to get to the ball first before they went to ground, aimed a bit towards each other, and eventually went head-to-head right infront of the nose of the linesman.

What would the punishment be?

Over came the referee to deal with the situation and, choosing a sensible course of action rather than spoiling the afternoon for the pair of them, both received a yellow card each.

The tension now felt even more palpable and as minutes ticked by and the game edged ever closer towards the end of normal-time, there were chances at both ends; Rogan Ravenhill using his leg to deny Ryan Huge (who looked a constant menace for Charlton along with his strike-partner) whilst at the other end, a through ball opened up the Addicks and Fabio Jalo saw a shot blocked after the ‘keeper did well to react initially and knock it away from the feet of Emmaisa Nzondo who was bearing down on goal.

Any mistake now could have been so costly and then deep into injury-time, ‘MY GOODNESS’ as Jeff Stelling might scream on Soccer Saturday, because Charlton went so, so close to a winner as the ball dropped dangerously at the back-post for a striker who turned and unleashed a shot that was goalbound until Jono Bland threw himself infront of to keep it out. 

Exceptional, brave and so important! That could have been it! That could have been the game! That could have been the championship!

And the skipper’s scream in anger, fist-pumped, red-faced and raging with annoyance at what he’d just had to do was only too visible - he DID NOT want to lose. And if that had gone in, it would have been it, no question whatsoever.

And so it went to extra-time…

A reset. A chance to regroup. A few minutes for some tired legs which were already starting to cramp up to get prepared for 30 more minutes.

And even though the opening stages of the first period of extra-time were mild in comparison to all the drama of the previous 90, in the 103rd minute came a moment which made Barnsley ‘gulp’ in anguish and despair.

That’s because Charlton took the lead. 

Nathan Asiimwe’s cross from the right was placed perfectly towards the edge of the six-yard box where Oliver Hobden rose highest and connected with power - sending the ball into the top corner. There was nothing Rogan Ravenhill could do. It was in. It was a goal. Charlton now had the lead. They were now 15 minutes away from being crowned National Champions and suddenly there were a few moments of deep concern.


And after the season these lads have had - becoming the first ever team from this club to win the PDL North title, they do not give up. They fight until the end. They dig in when it’s needed and maybe inspired by ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow (the half-time in extra-time song of choice - kudos to the PA man again; he had a good performance) they weren’t going to lie down and give up on their dreams. 

It was time to show character, courage and rise to become champions!

Despite Charlton’s best attempts at gamesmanship; squandering time, feigning injury and wasting seconds whenever they could, the Reds continued to show heart and glean courage from one another. Leo Farrell (on early in the second period of extra-time) looked right up for it and his bit of creativity to hook a ball into the penalty area, saw Barnsley win a corner.

And then, step up, Matty Doyle!

Onto the pitch just a few minutes earlier himself, he leapt high to meet Hayden Pickard’s brilliant ball into a crowded six-yard box and towering above everyone, his powerful connection sent Oakwell wild as his header crashed past the ‘keeper and into the net. Cue euphoria. Cue ‘Zombie Nation’ once more. Cue celebrations. Cue relief. Cue dreams on the horizon again. A massive, massive equaliser to make it 2-2 and give Barnsley the reward they wanted so much!

Charlton were crestfallen. They’d given everything in this game themselves, but had come unstuck and after FIVE additional minutes of extra-time (such was the gravity of their time-wasting), the full-time whistle went.

Three hours of exhilarating, adrenaline-pumped football, the proverbial emotional rollercoaster and the National Champions - the most prestigious prize at this level for these players - would be defined by the next few minutes. Take your breath!

Barnsley had the momentum and their huddle ahead of the spot-kicks which included EVERYONE on the coaching staff showed they were in this TOGETHER. As they broke away from it, there were screams of ‘COME ON’ and a few roars. Their belief and courage shone.

It was time to shine!

Jono Bland won the toss; Barnsley would take first and the spot-kicks would be at the Ponte End and after a slight delay as the referee moved away the groups of youths who’d gathered directly behind the goal, the shoot-out finally got underway.

Hayden Pickard… SCORED. 1-0.
Karoy Anderson… SCORED. 1-1.
Rafael Monteiro… SCORED. 2-1.
Daniel Kanu… SCORED. 2-2.
Fabio Jalo… SCORED (with a very short run-up). 3-2.
Harvey Kedwell… SCORED (just - and I seriously only mean ‘just’). 3-3.
Leo Farrell… SCORED. 4-3.
Toby Bower… SCORED. 4-4.
Emmaisa Nzondo… SCORED. 5-4.
Patrick Casey… SCORED (and he had to score). 5-5.

And so to sudden death it went…

The Barnsley trialist… SCORED. 6-5.

And then stepped up Kai Enslin whose drive was low and to the right of Rogan Ravenhill who guessed correctly, beat the ball away and that was it.

Oakwell exploded!

The adrenaline rush in that moment. The euphoria. The spine-tingling sensation of achievement. The absolute pandemonium. Utter delirium! The culmination of a season’s work. The DEFINING moment of EVERYTHING.

All those hours on the training ground. The hundreds of sacrifices they’ve made to get to this point. The hundreds of times as little lads, their parents made sure they were at training on time and prepared suddenly felt worth it.

This is what football is all about. This is what dreams feel like when they turn into reality - and these players TOGETHER haven’t half got each other believing and dreaming that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

As pandemonium; relief, euphoria and a whirlwind melting pot of emotions swirled around in the lads veins as they charged towards the corner where Rogan Ravenhill sprinted wildly (cue Fabio Jalo momentarily crowd-surfing on top of a pack which even included Nicky Eaden), the first few bars of ‘Ecuador’ by Sash have probably never sounded so good as a backing track to mark such a monumental moment.

A moment these lads will remember for the rest of their lives!

All that emotion. All the adrenaline. Pure, absolute joy at a sense of accomplishment which, even now, they’re still probably trying to comprehend because it won’t have quite sunk in yet - the best Barnsley youth team EVER. That was official already. But now NATIONAL CHAMPIONS and the best in their age group across this category in the whole country. Not just the North. The whole of England.

The next few moments will have probably felt quite blurred; the lads thoughts being something along the lines of ‘Weeeewooolaaweeeeloooweeeezeeeeeeyeeeeeeeha’ and buzzing off pure adrenaline, love and amazement as they took to the podium, tried to take in the moment, and eventually hoisted the trophy aloft to a backdrop of ‘We Are The Champions’ on the PA system, before a few photos to cherish forever with their family members pitchside.

What a day!

But what spirit from the lads to show grit, determination, desire and character, to stick together and emerge VICTORIOUS in a game which was an absolute blockbuster with so many massive moments.

Whether it be Rogan Ravenhill’s penalty save (and that one where he stuck out a leg in normal time when it was right in the balance), Hayden Pickard’s assist and so very nearly a goal to remember too, Josh McKay’s solid contribution at right-back, the absolute bravery shown by the trialist who contributed so much during the course of the game and then had the absolute guts to step forward in sudden death, Jono Bland and that block on the line deep into added time (plus all his bits of reassuring leadership which was so evident at other points; an absolute leader), Kynan Murchison and his steady performance, the graft and guile and work-rate of Vimal Yoganathan and Jean Claude Makiessi in midfield, Josiah Dyer and his persistence up top to try and make something happen which led to a standing ovation when he came off, Theo Chapman and his composed penalty under pressure in the first half, Fabio Jalo and all his trickery up top (plus the little grab). And then the subs, Emmaisa Nzondo who strived so tirelessly when he came on, Rafael Monteiro who looked determined and buried his own penalty, Leo Farrell with his height, desire and willingness to battle in order to play a big part in a comeback (and helping to win the corner), or Matty Doyle who headed home that equaliser which must have been one of the best moments of his life and will eclipse everything he’s been through with his injuries in the past.

TOGETHER, they gave it ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING and they probably couldn’t be prouder of what they gave for each other in this game. Heart, desire, application, willingness - the lot. It was out there by the bucket load. They all contributed so much. And they’ve all made each other believe what they’ve just achieved was actually possible and created memories for each other that will mean so much for years and years to come!

What a feeling! What a group!

So if any of you lads read this, take a look at your medals - and take a moment to reflect on what you’ve just achieved and how proud everyone is of you from your coaches to your families to your friends. It is phenomenal!

Barnsley Football Club has had some great players at academy level in the past but you’ve just proved yourself to be part of the best youth team this club has ever had! 

Let that sink in!

Saturday 20th May 2023.

A day to remember for the rest of your lives. A day that memories were made to keep forever. A day your families won’t ever forget. A day where the music over the PA system was bang on (even if it was a bit loud), and I hope this piece will bring back a few happy memories if or when you re-read it in years to come!

Get ‘Ecuador’ on your playlist and remember…


Team: Rogan Ravenhill, Josh McKay, Hayden Pickard, Trialist, Jonathan Bland, Kynan Murchison, Vimal Yoganathan, Jean Claude Makiessi, Josiah Dyer, Theo Chapman, Fabio Jalo. Subs: Emmaisa Nzondo, Rafael Monteiro, Leo Farrell, Matty Doyle. Unused Sub: Trent Carter-Rogers.