Bristol Rovers trip awaits AFC Sudbury Under-18s after seeing off Bowers & Pitsea in FA Youth Cup
AFC Sudbury overturned a half-time deficit at King's Marsh this evening with two second-half goals in a dominant display against Bowers & Pitsea setting up a trip to Bristol Rovers in the Second Round Proper of the FA Youth Cup.
After Adam Wright's speculative effort had given his side an undeserved 38th minute lead Rauf Kabangu fired in the equaliser shortly after half-time and the relentless pressure saw AFC gain the lead through Freddie King's 56th minute header.
Despite hitting the goal frame three times across the 90 minutes and forcing a string of saves out of visiting custodian Tom Ballard, the visitors remained in with a sniff but failed to take the few chances they created in the second period to see the hosts deservedly progress in front of a crowd of 141 on a bitterly cold evening.
Danny Laws named a starting 11 which saw left-back Harry Critchley make his return from a broken wrist and featured seven other players with first-team experience, including regulars Liam Bennett, Lewis O'Malley (captain) and Freddie King.
After riding out a couple of early hairy moments the young Yellows soon got on the front foot and began to send wave after wave of attacks on the Bowers goal.
Rauf Kabangu danced his way through the Bowers defence in the fifth minute but his shot lacked any real power.
In the 11th minute AFC hit the woodwork twice in the same move. Great shifting footwork from Freddie King took him past several players into the penalty area and his poked effort with the outside of his right foot came back off the left-hand post before Ethan Mayhew fired the rebound again the same post. It came back out to Critchley but he sent it fizzing over.
Within three minutes Laws' side were denied an opened by the goal frame again as O'Malley dipping half volley thundered back off the crossbar.
In the 16th minute Josh Hughes had his head in his hands after being found free in the centre of the penatly area from Sam Girling's free kick, only to steer his header wide.
Mayhew and King both failed to hit the target with half chances as the one-way traffic continued past the half-an-hour mark.
Bennett was causing problems with his direct running and cut in from the right before firing in a low shot that Sam Richardson's boot deflected just past the post while King fired in a volley but straight at goalkeeper Tom Ballard.
The visitors took the lead very much against the run of play in the 38th minute when number 9 Adam Wright drove inside from the right and fired a low shot from around 25 yards that looked like it should not have manage to beat Sam Wright but it did, nestling in at the right-hand corner.
Within three minutes Sudbury had a good chance to level but Hughes' header was tipped over the bar by Ballard after his defence had failed to properly clear a Girling free-kick.
Girling had the chance to have a strike at goal from a central free-kick but sent it flying over.
The hosts continued on the front foot at the start of the second period and got their reward within four minutes of the restart. A sweeping passing move saw Critchley played in down the left wing and he hit the byline before sending in a low cross in that found Kabangu who steadied himself before firing in.
AFC almost took the lead in the 53rd minute but Critchley was denied by the legs of keeper Ballard after Mayhew had played him in behind the defence with a great threaded pass.
But their second goal did arrive in the 56th minute as King managed to send his header from Girling's left-sided corner through a sea of bodies and in, after Critchley had seen a goalbound effort deflected wide.
Shane Temple replaced goalscorer Kabangu in the 58th minute and forced Ballard into a save within a minute, parrying his powerful effort away for a corner.
A route one ball up to Teejay Chiororo almost caught AFC out at the other end with the number 10 running on to it and firing just over Wright's bar.
In the 62nd minute Sudbury rattled the goal frame for the third time on the night when Josh Tysoe's connection to Critchley's cross cannoned back off the crossbar. It feel to Bennett who arrowed in a fierce shot that the crowd and players momentarily thought had found the top corner, though it transpired it had found the side-netting.
Mayhew went close with a header that was blocked at the near post before, from the resultant corner, King sent a thumping header over the bar.
There was another rare sight of goal for Bowers up the other end but Wright was able to comfortably cliam Max Ghandi's header.
The AFC pressure on Ballard's goalmouth kept coming though with the keeper producing an arching to turn Bennett's angled drive over his bar before King's mazy run from the half-way line ended with him poking past the post while another low effort was kept out with a good low save.
Wright, mainly a spectator, showed good awareness to rush off his line and sweep up a dangerous long ball while Temple fired over up the other end as the hosts looked to finally kill the tie off.
But King was denied late on by another arching save as their two goals proved to be good enough to make the second round proper for only the second time.
After League One outfit Bristol Rovers' Under-18s came from 1-0 down at half-time against Swindon to win 3-1 in an earlier kick-off, it was already known part-way through at The MEL Group Stadium that the winners would travel to the Memorial Ground next month, with the date yet to be confirmed.
AFC Sudbury: Wright, Critchley (Wooldridge 84'), Bennett, O'Malley (c), Langdrige, Tysoe (Renwick 67'), Girling, Hughes, Kabangu (Temple 58'), King, Mayhew. Subs unused: Horlock, Banyard, Blunkell (gk), Palmer.
Free Press Man of The Match: Some good performances but Freddie King proved too hot to handle for the Bowers defence and could have had a hat-trick were it not for some good goalkeeping.
* See Thursday's Free Press print edition for reaction to tongiht's cup win.