Grimsby Town’s FA Youth Cup run came to an end in the fourth round despite a brave performance against Millwall at Blundell Park.
After overcoming Premier League Nottingham Forest in the previous round, the Young Mariners again gave an excellent account of themselves against higher-level opposition but were eventually beaten by four second-half goals to one.
Town’s youth team were playing their first game since the tragic loss of popular defender Cameron Walsh and his father Dave and the team warmed up in t-shirts with Cameron’s picture on the front, before a moving minute’s applause preceded the kick-off. The number three shirt worn with distinction by Cameron was also absent from the home teamsheet, as it will be for the remainder of the season, with captain Billy Bradley instead wearing number 14 as he lined up at left-back.
After a goalless first half in which Town had created the better chances, Millwall opened the scoring two minutes before the hour through Frankie Maciocia.
Frankie Baker doubled the Lions’ advantage, before Kavali Heywood made it 3-0 and substitute Oliver Whitby added a fourth.
But Town kept going to the end and were rewarded for their efforts with a goal as Jack Collins found the net, to the cheers of a sizeable home crowd.
Grimsby were returning to competitive action for the first time since beating Wrexham in their final Youth Alliance League Cup group match on December 16, a victory which set up a northern area quarter-final away to Shrewsbury Town.
Millwall operate a level above the Young Mariners in academy football and their previous outing resulted in an emphatic 10-1 away win against Colchester United in the Professional Development League on January 13.
Harvey Cribb sent Town’s first chance wide after good play by Henry Brown on the right, before Millwall had the ball in the net through Heywood but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Jack Howland missed the target for the visitors with a low effort on four minutes, then a foul on Cameron Gardner gave Town a free kick in a promising position midway inside the Millwall half. Brown sent it towards the far post but Bradley’s header dropped just wide.
The away side’s Alfie Massey was shown the first yellow card of the evening for a foul near the halfway line and as Town continued their promising start, Brown took advantage of a moment of hesitancy in the Millwall defence to get to a ricochet first, although he could not hit the target from a narrow angle on the right.
Charlie Clements had Grimsby’s next opportunity as he cut inside from the left and let fly from 25 yards with a strike which went just over the bar.
Howland fired harmlessly over the bar from distance at the other end on 21 minutes, before a Cribb cross from the Town left was cleared after Collins had done well to get on the end of a good ball from Gardner.
Striker Baker won the game’s first corner for Millwall but the ball from the flag was headed wide, then Town’s next attack saw Grayson Giles beat defender Joshua Stephenson before being brought down to the left of the penalty area. Brown’s free kick found Giles and his close-range header was deflected away for a corner, which was punched away by goalkeeper Albert Penney.
Neither keeper had been called into serious action over an opening half-hour which was largely played in midfield areas, although Town had created the better opportunities and another half-chance came when Gardner sent a low shot wide from distance.
Grimsby stopper Seb Auton got down to comfortably save a 20-yard effort from Howland on 37 minutes, then good pressure by Gardner at the other end saw him win a corner on the right. It was headed away but the home side retained possession until a cross from Brown was also dealt with by the Millwall defence.
Collins was narrowly wide with a 25-yard shot after a run from the left as Town kept creating openings, although after one added minute at the end of the first half, the game remained goalless at the break.
No changes were made before the restart and Collins won an early corner after a quick break down the left.
A Giles cross from the left was sent back into the box by Brown on the opposite flank but defender Adedapo Olugbodi got to the ball first, then Baker fired wide at the other end after a run from Howland through the middle.
Another run from Howland led to a chance for Heywood but his shot was deflected over the bar for a corner. Maciocia’s delivery was tipped away for another one by Auton and this time, the corner from the right was headed clear.
A foul on Clements gave Town a free kick 25 yards from goal but Brown could only lift his shot over the bar.
The opening goal came two minutes before the hour and it was Millwall who took the lead. Again, Howland found MACIOCIA on the edge of the box and he sent an excellent finish past Auton.
The visitors stepped up the tempo after going ahead and they created an opening for Heywood on the edge of the box but he was unable to test Auton.
A cross from the Millwall right was blocked for a corner on 66 minutes and despite a superb double-save from Auton, he was unable to prevent the away side from doubling their advantage. Elidon O’Boyle’s header from Howland’s delivery was brilliantly kept out by the keeper and he also got a hand to the rebound but BAKER was on-hand to tap in from close range and make it 2-0.
Harry Shipstone replaced Giles in Town’s first substitution following the goal and Gardner was narrowly wide with a low strike soon afterwards as the Young Mariners aimed to reduce their deficit.
Jaxon Blankley came on for Clements on 74 minutes, before a great pass from Alfie Foy found Brown on the right but he was blocked as he aimed to cut inside.
Soon afterwards, the away side added a third goal when a shot from O’Boyle was blocked and the ball fell for HEYWOOD, who found the net with a low strike to Auton’s near post.
Stephenson missed the target with a shot from 20 yards after a Millwall corner was not fully dealt with, then Callum Storr was introduced in place of Brown for Town and Whitby replaced O’Boyle for the away side.
A free kick from Storr was cleared as the Young Mariners continued to look for a goal but with six minutes to go, Millwall made it 4-0 as WHITBY finished off a neat move with a strike from close range.
Jayden Teictas replaced Massey for the visitors with a minute to go and soon afterwards, Town had a deserved consolation goal as COLLINS beat Penney.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the contest before Millwall’s place in round five, where they will travel to Coventry City, was confirmed.
The Young Mariners will take pride from an excellent performance in front of a big crowd though, and reflect positively on a great cup run which also included away victories over Shrewsbury Town and South Shields.
Town: Seb Auton, Finley Axell, Alfie Foy, Finley Abraham, Harvey Cribb, Henry Brown (Callum Storr, 78), Charlie Clements (Jaxon Blankley, 74), Grayson Giles (Harry Shipstone, 69), Cameron Gardner, Jack Collins, Billy Bradley
Subs not used: Will Mitchell, Tom Rennardson, Henry Burt, Fortune Onoh
Millwall: Albert Penney, Elias Mansor, Adedapo Olugbodi, Alfie Massey, Harvey Whiteman, Joshua Stephenson, Elidon O’Boyle, Frankie Maciocia, Frankie Baker, Kavali Heywood, Jack Howland
Subs: Oliver Whitby, Jakub Przeworn, Jayden Teictas, Archie Kirkby, Sacha Vieira, Sheldon Kendall, Jaydon Thomas-Smith