Our U18s rounded off their EFL Youth Alliance regular season with a convincing 4-1 home victory over 10-man Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday.
After a goalless opening 45 minutes at the Bradley Football Development Centre, the Young Mariners struck four times in the second half to finish with a flourish ahead of the division splitting into two merit leagues for the final five games of the campaign.
Good chances were few and far between before the break but the game burst into life on 53 minutes when Rovers defender Jak Whiting was shown two yellow cards in quick succession and sent off after Louis Boyd was brought down on the edge of the penalty area. Doncaster boss Frank Sinclair, the former Chelsea and Leicester City defender, also saw the red card for his protests, before Harry Milner pounced to put Town ahead from the free kick.
Cameron Gardner grabbed the home side’s second and third goals either side of what turned out to be a consolation from Doncaster midfielder Faris Khan, then Milner completed the scoring with a brilliant header in added time.
Both sides came into the game sitting in the top half of the alliance’s north-east division and in good form, with Grimsby registering an excellent 3-1 win at Huddersfield Town on Friday before Doncaster’s Saturday success against Rotherham United.
Town had the first opportunity of the contest two minutes in when Charlie Clements was fouled on the right. Shakeel Brown’s free kick beat everybody but Boyd sent the ball back into the box and goalkeeper Jacob Bryant could only push it down, although Charlie Petch eventually completed the clearance.
Justin Bennett saw a shot blocked from 20 yards for the visitors, before Jack Raper let fly with a low effort from distance, which home stopper Will Mitchell got down to save.
Brown had another free kick to take when Milner was brought down just inside the Doncaster half and his delivery into the box was headed on but the ball was intercepted before it could reach Henry Moore.
Boyd then set off on his first of many pacy runs down the left and beat two defenders before cutting into the box but when he pulled the ball back, Gardner could only watch his first-time shot go over the bar.
Boyd was involved again on 22 minutes as Town put together an attacking move down the left which led to Brown going down on the edge of the penalty area, although the referee ruled there had been no foul and waved play on.
Brook Dennis saw a low shot pushed away for a corner by Bryant after a good ball from Milner, before a low cross from Gardner on the left was blocked and cleared.
Doncaster had a spell of pressure just after the half-hour but they were unable to make it count, with the referee blowing for a foul when a cross from Will Flint on the right was headed away.
A foul by Brown on Harry Wood gave the visitors a free kick 30 yards out but again, it did not lead to a chance as Khan’s chip drifted out for a goal kick.
As half-time loomed, a great cross-field ball from Petch found Wood on the left and he cut inside before shooting, with Mitchell making a comfortable stop.
At the other end, Boyd was getting plenty of space to launch attacks from the left and after linking up with Brown, he sent a cross over but the ball was claimed by Bryant.
A minute of added time was played and Doncaster finished strongly, with centre-back Petch setting off on a run through the middle which took him into the Town half. He continued his run and got the ball back on the left but was unable to find a team-mate with his cross, as the opening 45 minutes ended with the scoresheet still blank.
No changes were made by either side before the restart and the Young Mariners almost had an opening three minutes in when Finley Fletcher picked up a loose ball 30 yards from goal. He looked for Gardner but the attacker could not control the pass.
Raper was shown the first yellow card of the game on 50 minutes for a foul on Dennis but Brown was unable to pick out a team-mate from the resulting free kick.
Instead, the turning point came three minutes later, when Boyd went on an excellent run through the middle but was adjudged to have been stopped unfairly on the very edge of the box. The referee booked Whiting and seconds later, showed him the yellow card again, followed by the red one. Strong protests came from the Rovers dug-out in the aftermath and the red card was also brandished in front of Sinclair.
When the free kick was eventually taken, Town seized the initiative as Brown’s powerful low drive was not held by the keeper and after a scramble, MILNER put the ball into the net from close range.
Doncaster’s first substitution saw Alex Fletcher replace Wood but after taking the lead and with a man advantage, the hosts were now on top and they made it 2-0 on 63 minutes. Milner passed to Brown from the right and he in turn found GARDNER, who drilled a low shot across Bryant and into the far corner of the net from the left side of the box.
The Young Mariners were playing some excellent football and Gardner sent a 25-yard effort over the bar as they looked to put the result beyond doubt with a third goal.
Tom Parkinson replaced Will Green in Doncaster’s second change, before a foul on Clements gave Town a free kick midway inside the away half. It was played short and eventually led to Dennis lifting a shot over the bar from a narrow angle on the right.
The visitors earned an opportunity to create some danger when good defending by Moore gave them a corner on the left on 70 minutes, although Khan’s delivery from the flag beat everybody and went out for a goal kick.
At the other end, Clements went on a run from right-back but his chipped ball to the far post dropped out for a goal kick, then Milner fired just wide after good work by Gardner to keep the ball near the corner flag.
Town had dominated the majority of the second half but the away side were back in the contest with 14 minutes to go, when a corner from the right was swung in by Parkinson and KHAN’S header found the net.
But their hopes of completing an unlikely comeback did not last long, as the hosts were straight back on the attack and they almost had a third goal when Brown whipped a free kick in from the left but the ball bounced back off the far post and narrowly out of the reach of Gardner.
Grimsby did not have to wait much longer to restore their two-goal cushion though, as Milner set off on a driving run through the middle before slipping the ball through to GARDNER, who struck another low finish past Bryant and into the bottom corner.
That proved to be the cue for the first home substitution as Billy Bradley came on for Fletcher, with Will Hodgson following Bradley onto the pitch soon afterwards as he replaced Dennis.
Harry Thorpe became the first Town player to go into the referee’s notebook when he was yellow-carded for a foul near the centre-circle but the action was mostly in the Doncaster half now, with Bryant bravely racing off his line to beat Milner to a ball into the box.
Brown hit a shot from 25 yards which was deflected behind for a corner and Milner won another one after the ball was played short from the flag. This time, it was driven towards the far post by Brown, although Alex Markham’s header missed the target.
Another corner came as the game moved into added time as Hodgson’s pull-back from the left was blocked by the keeper. Brown’s flag-kick was flicked on into the path of Moore but his header was blocked.
Bradley was booked for kicking the ball away and delaying the taking of a free kick but as the clock ticked into a fourth added minute, there was still time for the Young Mariners to wrap up their win with a fantastic fourth goal. Brown looked up from the right and sent a cross over for MILNER, who directed his header up, over Bryant and into the net.
Having secured a top-half finish, Town’s youth team will now take a break from league action at the weekend, ahead of the start of their Merit League campaign.
Town: Will Mitchell, Charlie Clements, Louis Boyd, Harry Thorpe, Alex Markham, Henry Moore, Harry Milner, Finley Fletcher (Billy Bradley, 80), Brook Dennis (Will Hodgson, 83), Shakeel Brown, Cameron Gardner
Doncaster: Jacob Bryant, Will Flint, Freddie Allen, Jak Whiting, Charlie Petch, Justin Bennett, Jack Raper, Faris Khan, Owen Scattergood, Harry Wood (Alex Fletcher, 57), Will Green (Tom Parkinson, 66)