The FA Youth Cup: A gruelling cup tie decided by penalties.

A cold, damp night in Tadcaster, where Leeds United under 18’s were in FA Youth cup action against Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday. Global stadium was the venue, a stadium that hosts Leeds United under 23’s on regular occasions, would play host to the under 18s. The crowd came out in decent numbers hoping to see an entertaining match but most importantly a Leeds United win, except of course the odd fan that came to support the opposing team; Sheffield Wednesday. The FA youth cup, like the FA cup, is one cup competition that all teams take seriously. In the words of ex Leeds United left back Ben Parker, who currently works for LUTV, the FA youth cup is “an occasion you remember, even after you finish playing”. The management staff of both teams took the short walk across the pitch to the dugouts, followed by the Leeds United substitution’s carrying the teams water bottles. Good to see despite all the money that is in todays game, players are still grounded at youth level, at least at Leeds anyway. The two captains gathered on the centre circle and a firm hand shake followed between the two. Charlie Cresswell, son of ex Leeds striker, Richard brought his team mates together in a huddle before giving out the final speech. 

Both teams struggled in the first half due to not dealing with the playing conditions, which in truth, wasn’t the greatest. Sheffield Wednesday took the lead at the start of the second half, catching the Leeds defence sleeping. The lead only lasted 20 minutes when Leeds equalised through Jenkins after a good header back into the box from skipper, Cresswell. That would be it, a game of few chances was to head to extra time. The players from both teams were struggling, several players down on the floor struggling with cramps as the full time whistle went. Leeds took the lead for the first time in the game after good work from Stuart McKinstry, who’s cross was turned in by a Sheffield Wednesday defender. That wasn’t the end of the scoring when Wednesday level after a shot was spilled by keeper Sterry leading to a simple tap in. After a gruelling 120 minutes, the game finished 2-2. Penalties to come and a chance for Cooper Sterry to be the hero, or did Luke Jackson of Sheffield Wednesday have different ideas. 

The coaching staff and substitution looked on, all linking arms in anticipation. First up the Sheffield Wednesday skipper, who saw his penalty saved by Sterry, the worse possible start for the visitors. Cresswell stepped up and put Leeds ahead. There would be no more missed penalties as Leeds United advanced into the next round, wining 5-4. Sterry made up for his error and rightly so, was the hero after a good performance which thankful wasn’t remembered by his only mistake he made all night. The game was scrappy and lacked any real quality but at times, we had a glimpse of Bielsa ball trickling down, Leeds pressed, they played out from the back but in the end had to find a way of winning. The playing conditions didn’t suit our playing style, but they persisted and in the end was rewarded. As Henri Kumwenda stepped up to seal the victory, the Sheffield Wednesday players dropped to the ground in disappointment. Leeds players celebrated, all rushing to keeper Sterry but these celebrations were short lived. The Leeds United coaching staff and players showed class in victory, heading over to each Sheffield Wednesday player to offer their commiserations. Thousands of miles away, owner Andrea Radrizzani watched before sharing his congratulations to the team on social media. The academy is thriving, from the owner all the way down to the academy coaches, all with the same vision. To play intense attacking football but to stay humble and work hard. Young players at Leeds United have a real chance of making it, with a clear pathway to the first team. Players are improving, coaches are learning and together they’re building the groundwork for a successful club. The next round awaits for Mark Jackson side but tomorrow, they continue to work hard on the training pitch. 

Written by Thomas Wilson.

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