Our U18s were crowned Professional Development League North champions following a resounding 4-1 victory over Cardiff City on Saturday afternoon.
The young Reds, who have led the division for much of the campaign, went into the game knowing that three points would be enough for a historic first title after nearest challengers Sheffield United fell to defeat at Swansea City earlier in the day.
Emmaisa Nzondo’s brace, an own goal and one from Josiah Dyer ensured that Nicky Eaden’s side opened up an unassailable lead at the summit with two fixtures still to play as they gear up for a mouth-watering one-legged play-off semi-final against their southern counterparts.
Knowing what was at stake in South Wales, Barnsley were quick out of the blocks, with Josh McKay testing Joe Thomas early on, but the shot stopper was equal to his looping effort.
Minutes later, the Reds took the lead as a calculated ball in from McKay met the head of Dyer, who rattled the crossbar before Nzondo gleefully tapped home from close range to open the scoring.
Soon after breaking the deadlock, the young Reds poured forward in search of a second and came close through Rafael Monteiro and Dyer.
Barnsley’s attacking efforts would soon be rewarded once more, when another wonderful McKay cross met the outstretched leg of a Cardiff defender, who was unable to clear and instead turned the ball into his own net.
Shortly before the break, the Reds bagged their third with McKay turning provider again, as Josiah Dyer latched onto his cross before firing the ball past a despairing Thomas.
HALF-TIME: Cardiff City 0-3 Barnsley
Our hosts began the second half with intent, desperate to find a way back into the game and forced Rogan Ravenhill into action on multiple occasions, most notably when he clawed Will Spiers’ menacing strike away from danger.
Midway through the half, the Reds lost Kynan Murchison and Charlie Hickingbottom to injury, with Vimal Yoganathan and a Trialist entering the fray.
The hosts continued to probe and came close to finding a way through our resolute defence, only for Tanatswa Nyakuhwa to see his strike blocked by Alex Joof.
Moments before injury time, our youngsters capped off their excellent display with a fourth goal when Theo Chapman darted into the box and squared for Nzondo to sweep home, leaving Thomas flat-footed.
Deep into injury time Cardiff pulled a goal back through Louis Phillips, who headed low and powerful to Ravenhill’s left, but it was merely a footnote and scant consolation in an encounter that our U18s largely dominated.
The celebrations at the final whistle were those of pure jubilation from our history making young side, who claimed the title in style with their breath-taking brand of football.
FULL-TIME: Cardiff City 1-4 Barnsley
REDS XI: Ravenhill (GK), McKay, Pickard, Joof, Hickingbottom, Murchison, Bland (C), Makiessi, Dyer, Monteiro, Nzondo.
Subs: Carter-Rogers (GK), Chapman, Farrell, Yoganathan, Trialist.