The Middlesex Under-18 team completed its programme of matches for the 2018/19 season with a single-goal defeat to Hertfordshire on Sunday last, 17 March. This game, in Group B of the South East Counties Youth Championship, was played on Hertfordshire FA’s new state-of-the-art artificial pitch, at their extensively renovated County Ground in Letchworth.
Hertfordshire had the better of the chances in an entertaining match and deserved their narrow victory, which ensured their progress into the final of the competition as group winners.
Essex completed their programme on the same day with a 6-0 win against the Amateur Football Alliance, giving them six points from their three games, while Hertfordshire also have six points, from their two matches played so far. However, in this competition, the first criterion for determining league rankings, when teams are equal on points, is the result of the match between the two teams. Therefore Hertfordshire, who beat Essex 1-0 in November, go through whatever the result of their final game against the Amateur Football Alliance.
Middlesex’s season, which initially promised to be a successful one, with some very positive individual performances in the pre-season trial matches and a thumping 14-0 victory in our second round FA County Youth Cup match against Wiltshire, tailed off in a disappointing manner, following our unjust defeat at Liverpool in the third round of that competition.
This was in no small measure due to a lack of commitment by some players. For example, Manager John Fletcher has spent many hours dealing with late replacements. Despite John’s efforts, we went into our final two matches with only two substitutes available (one of them a goalkeeper each time) of the five permitted. This is, of course, a big handicap in a competition in which repeat substitutions are the rule.
Middlesex made the running at the start of this match. Home keeper, Will Sarchett saved at Radu Stefanoaica’s feet. Good control by Ollie Lawford took him into a good position before he was brought down on the edge of the penalty box. The resultant free-kick taken by Femi Azeez was comfortably saved by Will Sarchett, who then beat down another effort by Femi.
Then Middlesex ‘keeper, Reece Mallett was called into action. Herts striker, Jack Walker was tripped in a central position 25 yards out and took the free-kick himself. Reece saved and almost immediately went full-length to make another stop from the same player.
Home striker, Lewis Wicker went on a penetrating run and beat two defenders before releasing Louie Johnson, whose shot hit a post.
Hertfordshire were now dominating proceedings and caused our defence some anxious moments. A shot by Mitchell Stanger was cleared off of our goal-line and Reece was forced into another good save.
We hit back and Ruben Carvalho’s free-kick from wide on the right was met by Radu Stefanoaica, whose downward header was deflected for a corner.
Then Reece saved the situation again by tipping the ball around the post following a defensive mix up.
The only goal of the game came in the 38th minute. A quickly taken free-kick by Lewis Wicker, in the shape a long cross-field ball, was netted by Louie Johnson.
There was further action at both ends before the half-time break. Reece stopped a powerful low shot by Jack Walker. Will Sarchett then saved low down from Femi. Then Hertfordshire’s Ryan Emmanuel was through on goal but did not connect properly, allowing Reece to collect the ball. Lawrence Ajong hit our post with a vicious curling drive. Finally, Reece touched Ethan Kessel’s in-swinging corner onto his crossbar and out for another corner.
Half-Time Score: Hertfordshire 1 Middlesex 0
John Fletcher rotated his goalkeepers for the second-half, Caolan Doyle replacing Reece. Caolan was in action immediately with a low diving save.
Ryan Emmanuel twice went near to scoring. He went through the middle of our defence and lobbed over Caolan but just wide of the post. Then, after being put through by Lawrence Ajong he was thwarted by Caolan’s feet.
A cross-field pass by Louie Johnson to Lawrence Ajong was transferred to Ethan Kessel. A goal line clearance by Sukru Yildiz saved the situation.
Ruben Carvalho fired low across the Herts goal, just missing the far post. Then a long straight free-kick by Jamie Fulton was headed over by Radu.
Caolan, who was being kept just as busy as Reece had been in the first-half, made a fine reflex save from Ryan Emmanuel, who had connected with a long ball from Lawrence Ajong.
Will Sarchett saved well from Felix Amoah’s low cross-shot and at the other end, Caolan went full-length to thwart Reece Crowter.
Babejide Shittu made an interception and released Radu but Will Sarchett saved at our striker’s feet. Femi went past two home defenders and fed Radu, whose shot was blocked by a defender.
Final Score: Hertfordshire 1 Middlesex 0
Referee Tom De Prez controlled proceedings admirably, ably assisted by his Hertfordshire colleagues, Tom Muir and Davey Gray.
Our thanks are given to Hertfordshire Chairman, Brian Curtis, and his colleagues for their warm welcome and hospitality.
Will Sarchett (Pro Direct Academy Onslow), Reece Crowter (Ware), Lucas Preston (Leverstock Green), Louie Johnson (Bishops Stortford), Mitchell Stanger, Jamie Ovington (both Garston Boys), Louis Benson (Stevenage Borough Community), Ethan Kessel (Brady Maccabi), Ryan Emmanuel Garston Boys), Max Jessop (Hatfield Town) and Lawrence Ajong (Ware)
Substitutes (repeat substitutions were used): Marcos Cesvette, Antonio Marra (Baldock Town), Jack Walker and Lewis Wicker (both Bishops Stortford)
Manager: Ryan Brooke
Coach: Jeff Hutchison
Physio: Dan Foster
Reece Mallett (Harefield United), Babjide Shittu (Hanwell Town), Miles Dumba (Wealdstone), Jamie Fulton (Northwood), Sukru Yildiz, Carl Adiku (both Potters Bar Town), Ruben Carvalho (Wingate & Finchley) (capt), Femi Azeez (Wealdstone), Radu Stefanoaica (Uxbridge), Oliver Lawford (Northwood) and Felix Amoah (Hendon)
Substitutes: Caolan Doyle (Northwood), Mo Ali (Hanwell Town)
Manager: John Fletcher
Assistant Manager: Wayne Little
Coaches: Remi Bicknell and Vince Purdue
Physio: Gary Strudwick
PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF THE GAME, COURTESY OF CHRIS BENN