Manchester City punished a tiring Rovers side as three late goals gave the FA Youth Cup semi-final a lopsided look.

Rovers Under-18s were much the match of City for the opening 75 minutes, but in the closing stages, City’s quality told as they ran in three more goals to book their place in the final with a 4-0 win.

Mike Sheron’s side held firm in the first-half to go in all square, their resistance broken 10 minutes into the second half as Joe Hodge opened the scoring. 

Rovers grew into the game, with Luke Brennan heading over their clearest opening with the score at 1-0.

But as the game ticked on, and tiring legs began to take effect, Liam Delap, James McAtee and Jayden Braaf all found the net, the last two of those coming as Rovers played their way into trouble.



City were quickly into their passing stride, but Rovers were far from over-awed at St James’ Park. City were undoubtedly favourites going into the game, but Rovers looked disciplined and organised from the off.

They were able to call on the services of Jordan Eastham in goal and a combination of three smart saves from the ‘keeper, some fine blocks and disciplined defending meant chances were at a premium in the first half.

City’s threat came from the flanks, Cole Palmer, who has Champions League experience for Pep Guardiola’s men, and Morgan Rogers, were playing as inverted wingers and also looking to cut in onto their stronger foot.

Dan Pike and Lenny Cirino had their hands full but were standing up manfully to the threat.

City were therefore having to take shots from range, first Ben Knight seeing a strike saved by Eastham at his near post in the seventh minute, while an effort from Rogers from the opposite flank six minutes later was also kept out by the Rovers ‘keeper.

Palmer was next to try his luck just before the half hour, but as Rovers scrambled back, his shot was straight at Eastham who was able to push his strike away.

He was most worried by another Rogers effort five minutes before the break, only for this to flash wide of the far post.

The lack of clear-cut openings was testament to the work Rovers were doing behind the ball, but having worked so hard out of possession, they were struggling to cause James Trafford much concern at the other end.

Luke Brennan had several promising runs fade out to nothing, but one did create an opening for Sam Burns who controlled a Cirino pass, only for Taylor Harwood-Bellis to block his goalbound effort.

Rovers though they should have had a penalty when Jake Garrett went down in the box as CJ Egan Riley dangled a leg, but referee Ross Joyce was unmoved.

The pattern of the second half continued with City probing and forcing the issue, with Rovers standing form. Rogers bent another shot narrowly wide of the far post before the resistance was finally broken 10 minutes into the second half.

Following a number of good blocks, Rovers couldn’t get out quick enough to stop Joe Hodge getting a shot off which Eastham couldn’t keep out, despite getting a strong hand to his 20-yard effort.

The worry was that gaps were starting to open up as James McAtee, who scored when the sides met at Under-23s level this season, curled a shot onto the roof of the net.

The midway point of the second half arrived, and with it Rovers’ best chance. A period of good possession ended with Sam Durrant crossing from the right, with Luke Brennan heading over unmarked at the far post.

He moved more centrally after the introduction of Alex Baker, and his driving run at the City defence, with 16 minutes remaining, saw him curl wide of the target.

The second goal that City craved to kill the game off came with 13 minutes to play, a well-worked free kick allowing Palmer to square for Delap, who had previously been well-marshalled, to tap into the net.

He thought he had his second, and City’s third, moments later, when turning in after Braaf’s shot came back off the post, only to be flagged offside.

The third wasn’t long in the waiting however. As Rovers tried to play out from the back, James McAtee pounced on a loose Isaac Whitehall pass to slot the ball beyond Eastham.

Things didn’t get any better, substitute James Connolly the guilty party as he played a ball across his own box which Jayden Braaf pounced on to shoot first time past Eastham.

Rovers did go close themselves late on, Trafford at full stretch to keep out Sam Burns' effort.



Seven of Rovers’ starting line-up are under professional contracts at the club, while the majority of the side have had at least some Under-23s experience, as boss Mike Sheron welcomed back those players who had graduated from their scholarships in the summer.

Rovers were missing Flavien Enzo Boyomo and D’Margio Wright-Phillips from the side which comprehensively beat Arsenal in the quarter-finals back in March, Boyomo having since joined La Liga 2 side Albacete while Wright-Phillips is back at his parent club City, and was ineligible to play for either side.

Sheron went with a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Jalil Saadi and Jake Garrett the central defensive partnership as Isaac Whitehall anchored the midfield with Jared Harlock. Brandon Lonsdale played just off Sam Burns who had scored in every round going into the game.

Rovers: Eastham, Pike, Saadi, Garrett, Cirino, Whitehall, Harlock (Pleavin, 84), Durrant (Connolly, 79), Brennan, Lonsdale (Baker, 68), Burns



Jalil Saadi has played much of this FA Youth Cup run in central defence, allowing Isaac Whitehall to play in central midfield, a place Saadi himself has featured for the Under-23s.

With Jake Garrett alongside him he was the most experienced in the heart of the Rovers defence and did a sound job against Liam Delap, the Manchester City striker who has already made his mark on the first-team stage.

His positioning at the near post to stop several left wing crosses, and his positional sense throughout was strong, as was his composure and awareness when making interceptions.

He won applause from the bench with one particular interception with 20 minutes to play as he read the situation perfectly to stop Knight having a clean run on goal.

On the ball he was composed, and able to bring it out from the backline to get Rovers moving, with the scoreline not a reflection on his defensive display.

The likelihood will be that his opportunities at Under-23s level will come in midfield, but in central defence, he excelled in the semi-final.