Our U18s booked their place in the third round of the FA Youth Cup with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Bradford City on Friday evening.
Emmaisa Nzondo’s extra-time strike was enough to settle an enthralling contest and set-up a tie with Lincoln City on what was a chilly night at Oakwell.
It was an encounter that ebbed and flowed, with Barnsley enjoying much of the possession for large parts of the first half, and there may be a tinge of disappointment that it took an additional 30 minutes to see off a determined and resolute Bantams side.
Having made a bright start, the Reds were awarded a penalty inside nine minutes, which the ever-confident Nzondo stepped up to take but his spot-kick was excellently turned onto the post by Zac Hadi.
The young forward was denied again moments later, with the visiting goalkeeper plunging down to his right to tip a low effort around the upright.
Barnsley kept the ball well and aimed to create openings by moving City from side to side across the pitch, and it appeared as though they would be frustrated until Luke Alker pounced on a loose ball in the area and drilled into the bottom corner.
It was the lead that our U18s deserved, and it was almost doubled in the blink of an eye, but Nzondo’s effort was blocked by a defender before Kieran Graham lashed the rebound over the bar.
HALF-TIME: Barnsley 1-0 Bradford City
The visitors were much improved after the break and gradually began to grow into the contest, pressing high up the pitch.
That eventually resulted in them drawing level midway through the half as Max Murray raced clear to rifle an unstoppable shot beyond Rogan Ravenhill.
It was a proverbial kick up the backside our U18s needed, and they restored their slender lead two minutes later following a lovely, flowing move down the right, with Ziggy Kozluk firing a cross into the six-yard box that was inadvertently diverted into his own net by the unfortunate Finley Gledhill.
Bradford were awarded a penalty five minutes from time, and Harry Ibbitson confidently sent Rogan Ravenhill the wrong way to set up a tense finale, in which both sides had chances to sneak victory.
Gabriel Wadsworth’s opportunistic attempt from the edge of the area threatened to catch Ravenhill off guard, before Alker’s close range snap shot was cleared off the line in the dying embers as extra-time loomed.
FULL-TIME (90 MINUTES): Barnsley 2-2 Bradford City
It was cagey affair for the additional 30 minutes, with neither side – understandably – wanting to lose having come so far.
But momentum always seemed to be with the Reds, who had regained their composure following an uncharacteristic showing in the second half of normal time.
Their persistence paid off when Trialist’s header looped off the bar and Nzondo – in blistering form this season – was on hand to pounce and prod home the rebound to spark scenes of pure jubilation.
City pushed forward in search of yet another equaliser, and they thought they had it when Franklyn Denison took aim from 25-yards, only for Ravenhill to produce a stupendous save to claw his curling strike out of the top corner.
The Bantams huffed and puffed in the closing stages, but Barnsley always looked in control and assured, with the irrepressible Jonathan Bland leading by example at the heart of defence in what was a magnificent captain’s performance.
It perhaps wasn’t vintage from our U18s, but it was enough to secure safe passage to the third round.
FULL-TIME (AFTER EXTRA-TIME): Barnsley 3-2 Bradford City
REDS XI: Ravenhill (GK), Kozluk, Trialist A, Bland (C), McCann, Lundoloki (R Woodcock, 74), Yoganathan (Graham, 23), Tommy-Mbogba, Monteiro, Alker, Nzondo.
Not used: Andrassey (GK), Reid, Warburton, Thompson, J Woodcock.
BRADFORD XI: Hadi (GK), Wilkinson, Boney, Thompson, Brooks, Gledhill, Murray, Denison, Ibbitson, Wadsworth (C), Sidibeh.
Subs: Lord (GK), Goodman, Hussain, Mboma, Mohamed, Rose-Campbell, Fikri.