By Olly Groome
Charlton bowed out of the FA Youth Cup in the cruellest fashion as a goal deep into injury time sealed a 3-2 quarter-final win for Manchester United at Old Trafford.
United substitute James Wilson grabbed the winner in the seventh minute of time added on, with Charlton down to 10 men after fellow replacement Harry Gerard left the field on a stretcher.
But the youngsters can be proud of their showing at the Theatre of Dreams, in front of a healthy crowd of 4,461. Despite falling behind twice, it looked as if defeat was far beyond Charlton’s ideals. Indeed, it was the Addicks who looked far more likely to move onto the final four.
The first real chance in the first half fell to United’s Sam Byrne 10 minutes in when the striker’s low shot fizzed just past Dillon Phillips’ right hand post.
Callum Harriott would go closer at the other end just one minute later. Cutting in from the left flank, the tricky winger’s long-range effort took a deflection and came off the crossbar.
Charlton would go close again from the resultant corner. Oliver Muldoon and Harriott worked a superb short set piece routine, from which Diego Poyet played through Muldoon at a tight angle to force a good save from goalkeeper Jonathan Sutherland at his near post.
Charlton were looking confident and unfazed by their surroundings. United were giving the ball away easily in the middle of the park and at times, looked nervous. The Addicks looked to capitalise.
A sumptuous diagonal ball over the top from Semi Ajayi found Morgan Fox on the left. Joe Pigott was allowed space in the box but Fox’s low cross just missed the waiting Charlton striker, and United were allowed to clear their lines.
The 18th minute saw another superb cross-field ball, this time from Harriott to Tobi Sho-Silva. The front man had the beating of his defender but lost his footing as he approached the box.
There were more chances to come for Charlton. Pigott saw a glancing header fail to threaten Sutherland’s goal, after a good cross from Tareiq Holmes-Dennis on the left.
At the other end, Gyliano Van Velzen was finding some space. Man Utd’s number 11 saw a scuffed effort skid across the face of goal and moments later found himself in a good position on the edge of the box, only to give the ball away needlessly.
On the half hour, Holmes-Dennis had a sight at goal, but his effort sailed over. He clearly had his shooting boots on, however, as a minute later and from a similar distance he tested Sutherland, but his low drive was well held.
The home side started to grow into the game. Mats Daehli began a move on the left which finished with the ball at his feet, 10 yards from goal, but a superb block from Harry Lennon saw the ball cleared to safety. The defender put his body on the line as he threw himself in front of goal, the ball cannoning off his chest.
Dillon Phillips had yet to be seriously tested in the Charlton goal, but he would earn his stripes on 37 minutes with an eye-catching double save from close range. Tyler Blackett’s cut back found Jack Rudge, with Phillips equal to his effort. Quick as a flash the Addicks keeper stuck out an instinctive arm to block an immediate rebound.
Straight from the clearance, a swift counter attack put Sho-Silva clean through. Having shown his defender a clean pair of heels, he bore down on goal from the right, but his low effort was well saved by Sutherland at his near post.
Minutes later, during a battle for possession on the right flank, Joe Pigott went down having been caught in the face and would spend a few minutes on the touchline receiving treatment. This would prove crucial.
Jack Barmby was allowed space on the left corner of the box and his crisp left footed drive nestled in the far corner of Charlton’s goal. The winger, son of current Hull City manager Nick, continued his run of scoring in every round of this season’s FA Youth Cup.
The guests would react perfectly, however, with 44 minutes on the clock: Holmes-Dennis and Harriott exchanged a one-two, which was followed by a thunderous effort from range by the latter. Sutherland could only tip it back into the danger area, where Sho-Silva was waiting to loop a header into the back of the net.
Charlton were level approaching half time and indeed, the Addicks may consider themselves unfortunate not to go in with the lead. Pigott’s pull back from the left fell to Harriott and with a clear sight at goal, 15 yards out, he sent the ball over the bar.
The young Addicks could go into the dressing room at the break feeling fully confident of a result at Old Trafford and were certainly the better side in the opening 45.
The second half started off a much tighter affair but it would be the hosts who would carve out the first chance. Striker Sam Byrne’s shot from the right deflected heavily and seemed to be heading in, but Phillips reacted and saved well, low to his right.
Much of the game was being played in the centre of the park and the occasion was becoming somewhat of a midfield battle, with United just beginning to edge proceedings.
The home side made their first substitute of the evening, with Wilson replacing Luke Hendrie. The newcomer headed over the bar after a ball in from goalscorer Barmby.
The Addicks came close on 67 minutes when captain Jordan Cousins’ airborne cross was mis-hit by a home defender, and the ball sailed perilously over Sutherland’s crossbar. Lennon headed wide from the resultant corner.
The hosts then started to get on top. On 70 minutes, a free kick was cleared by Charlton, only to find its way back to Barmby, whose shot from distance forced another good save by Phillips.
After a spell of possession, the home side regained the lead in the 76th minute. Good work from full back Liam Grimshaw saw his pin point cross to the far post, headed into the corner of the net by Van Velzen.
That goal prompted Steve Avory and Paul Hart to ring the changes, as Joe Pigott made way for Adebayo Azeez straight after the goal, but just a minute later it was all square.
Sho-Silva received the ball on the edge of the box and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the bottom corner. With that, the striker became one of only a handful of players who can boast a brace at the Theatre of Dreams.
More importantly, Charlton were now in the ascendency. Ajayi headed a good chance wide of the post from a free kick and Sho-Silva followed suit, beating two United defenders to nod off-target from a Fox cross.
Then came the moment which changed the game: Tyler Clackett crunched in on Gerard, who had only entered the fray as a substitute minutes earlier, leaving the young Addick in some discomfort on the deck.
Clackett’s challenge earned him a yellow card and after lengthy treatment, Gerard was stretchered off. This proved pivotal as Charlton had exhausted their full quota of substitutes: Gerard had replaced Holmes-Dennis, while Harry Osborne replaced namesake Lennon earlier.
Charlton had to soldier on with ten men, staring down the barrel of extra time. Yet it was the visitors who nearly snatched a goal in the 89th minute. Azeez summoned all his strength to carve out a shooting opportunity, but while Sutherland was beaten, Iannou was on hand to clear off the line.
The board went up for an overwhelming ten minutes of added on time, and Charlton came at their hosts with a wave of chances, despite the numerical disadvantage.
Cousins supplied a fantastic cross for Azeez, who saw another header dip over. Moments later, it was the towering forward once again bearing down on goal for what looked likely to be a one-on-one chance with the keeper, before Iannou recovered superbly to once again dig his side out of a hole, with a last-ditch sliding tackle.
Azeez wasn’t finished yet, as he would have one final chance to snatch a winner. Breaking free of the last defender, the substitute found himself one-on-one. With only the keeper to beat, he side footed a shot to Sutherland’s left which the stopper superbly tipped away to safety as the Addicks fans and players alike watched on in agony.
And just when they thought it couldn’t get any more agonizing, heartbreak struck in the game’s 97th minute. A ball played down the left found its way to Wilson, who neatly put away the game’s winner low to Phillips’ left. There would be no further chances and a third comeback was not on the cards.
The Addicks could not have done more to deserve a place in the semi-final and the cliché that ‘football can be a cruel game’ certainly rang true. The future of Charlton came to Old Trafford, they saw, and but for the odd circumstance, they would have conquered.