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Friday, 27 April 2007

BRILLIANT REDS WIN YOUTH CUP ON PENALTIES

Jimmy Rice at Old Trafford 27 April 2007

Liverpool's class of 2007 have written their names into Anfield history by retaining the FA Youth Cup.
The under-18s lifted the trophy after a dramatic penalty shoot-out against Manchester United in their own backyard on Thursday night.

Steve Heighway's youngsters, who lost the Anfield leg 2-1 last week, took the game to spot kicks following a deserved 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

Centre-back Robbie Threlfall, who scored an own goal which let United back into the first leg 10 days ago, went from zero to hero by netting the only goal in normal time and a decisive penalty.

While stand-in keeper David Roberts also made a hero of himself by saving United's first spot kick, it was home captain Sam Hewson who handed the cup to the Reds when he skied over his side's fifth penalty at the Stretford End.

The victory means Liverpool Under-18s have now gone two years without defeat in youth football's premier competition. What a way for the retiring Heighway to bow out.

The triumph was witnessed by new Reds co-owner George Gillett, whose presence provided yet another indication of the safe hands in which former chairman David Moores has placed the club.

Mr Gillett's smile as the travelling Kop erupted spoke volumes, while the hoards of Reds watching around the country will be hoping this is just the first of many trophies under our new American owners.

Liverpool may have been second best on home soil during the first leg, but no one could argue they didn't deserve to get their hands on the trophy after 120 minutes of maturity, spirit and poise across the East Lancs.

They had to be patient on the night, with the game getting off to a cagey start. Aware from the first leg how dangerous their opponents could be down the flanks, United were doubling up on wingers Jimmy Ryan and Ray Putterill.

This made it difficult for the visitors to create much during an uneventful first-half, though Youth Cup veteran Craig Lindfield perhaps could have done better on the one occasion Ryan did manage to get the ball into the box.

The Reds will have been the more disappointed of the two sides when the half-time whistle blew having started to get into their stride as the opening 45 minutes wore on.

Their rhythm was nearly disrupted further four minutes after the restart when Febian Brandy found himself one-on-one with Roberts. It took a fine save to keep the scoresheet blank.

It seemed finally we had a game on our hands when, two minutes later, Lindfield crafted a marvellous chance inside the United box. The Reds number nine was denied by the post, with strike-partner Ryan Flynn unable to direct the rebound into the net.

But then came the moment the thousands of travelling Merseysiders had been waiting for when Threlfall drove an unstoppable left-foot volley into the back of Ron-Robert Zieler's net from a Charlie Barnett corner.

How ironic the goal came on 55 minutes, that being the exact number of times the Old Trafford stadium announcer had reminded us we were in the 'Theatre of Dreams'.

So, with the away-goals rule not applying in Youth Cup games, the tie was heading for extra-time.

Putterill had different ideas, mind, and he nearly doubled the Reds' advantage on the night in the closing stages with a sublime curling shot which crept agonisingly wide of Zieler's goal.

This one was going the distance, then.

Liverpool perhaps came closest to clinching victory in extra-time when Lindfield turned the United defence inside-out before lashing a low drive goalwards. But, for the second time of the evening, the young marksman was denied by the post.

Both Lindfield and United substitute Antonio Bryan could have scored from close range in the last 15 minutes, though by that stage the tie looked destined to be settled from 12 yards.

United won the toss but Roberts made it advantage Liverpool from the off with a fine save from Magnus Eikrem.

Putterill sent Zieler the wrong way to put the visitors in front, though Chris Fagan soon levelled things up.

Lindfield, James Chester, Flynn, Daniel Galbraith and Threlfall all converted to make it 4-3 after four pens each, meaning Hewson had to score.

He didn't, and Liverpool were going home with their third FA Youth Cup.

Attendance: 24,347.

Liverpoolfc.tv man-of-the match: Robbie Threlfall.

Liverpool: Roberts, Spearing (capt), Threlfall, Darby, Burns, Ryan (Woodward 94), Putterill, Flynn, Lindfield, Ajdarevic (Irwin 81), Barnett. Subs not used: Mimms, Highdale, Parsonage.

Man Utd: Zieler, Eckersley, Evans (Moffatt 99), Strickland, Chester, Drinkwater (Bryan 72), Welbeck (Eikrem 88), Hewson (capt), Brandy, Fagan, Galbraith. Subs not used: McCormack, Woods.

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