So close to glory

COLCHESTER United Youths came within five minutes of beating Crystal Palace and progressing through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup last night, only to run out of legs and lose 3-2 when the hosts forced the tie into extra-time.

By Carl Marston

COLCHESTER United Youths came within five minutes of beating Crystal Palace and progressing through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup last night, only to run out of legs and lose 3-2 when the hosts forced the tie into extra-time.

The U's were trailing to a header from Ryan Hall at half-time, but they responded with a sparkling second-half display to really do themselves proud at Selhurst Park.

Anthony Wordsworth grabbed a superb equaliser with a clinical strike in the 67th minute, and the impressive David Wareham headed the visitors in front on 71 minutes.


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Palace were on the back foot for virtually the whole of the second period, but they were handed a lifeline when substitute Victor Moses bagged an 85th-minute equaliser with a spectacular shot from 25 yards out. That was a real bolt out of the blue.

It was a body-blow for Joe Dunne's brave young team. The Eagles had not looked like scoring until Moses' speculative effort, and yet suddenly they had to pick themselves up for 30 minutes of extra-time.

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Palace striker Lewis Grabban swooped with what proved to be the match-winner in the 95th minute, tucking the loose ball home from a very narrow angle after keeper Anthony Hughes had been unable to hold onto a fierce free-kick.

The U's did find the back of the net, from a corner routine, in the very last minute, but that goal was ruled out for an infringement, much to the frustration of manager Dunne and his team.

This was only their second defeat in the last 15 games. They had matched Palace for endeavour and ability, and can count themselves a little unlucky not to be in the hat for the fourth round.

One of the spectators in the crowd, enjoying this entertaining cup-tie, was a familiar face to both clubs. Bobby Bowry had started his career at Crystal Palace, before going on to play for Millwall and Colchester.

Veteran midfielder Bowry was released by the U's last summer, and is now enjoying life at Conference club Gravesend & Northfleet. He also watched the U's Reserves' 4-0 win over Leyton Orient's second string the previous evening.

Opportunities were few and far between in the early stages. Philip Starkey headed wide from a couple of Palace corners, while at the other end Tom Webb almost powered his way through, only for defender Lee Hills to arrive in the nick of time to hoof to safety.

Midfielder Darren O'Connor earned the U's a free-kick in a promising position on 32 minutes. But fellow midfielder Wordsworth lifted the free-kick well over the bar.

Two minutes later and Palace took the lead. Hall was unmarked as he sneaked between two defenders to send a snaking header into the far corner of the net, giving keeper Hughes no chance.

This goal visibly rattled the U's, although they regained their composure to finally threaten home keeper David Wilkinson in the 40th minute. Wareham did well to whip over a deep cross from the left flank which Medi Elito climbed high to head into the danger zone. Wilkinson gobbled up the header.

Palace were indebted to their keeper for an even better save in the 43rd minute. Front-runner Webb lost his footing, but was still able to slide the ball across for Wareham, who cracked in a stinging low drive which Wilkinson managed to turn around the post.

From the ensuing corner, livewire Webb pounced onto a loose ball, and was disappointed to see his shot from the edge of the box whistle high and wide.

United had enjoyed a purple patch before half-time, but without applying the killer touch.

They continued to press at the start of the second-half. Craig Hughes, who was awarded his first-team squad number (No. 27) last month, crashed a free-kick into the defensive wall, and although O'Connor latched onto the rebound to cross into the box, there was no team-mate on hand to capitalise.

The Eagles should have doubled their tally in the 58th minute. Jamie Smith sprang the U's offside trap and chipped onrushing keeper Hughes. Grabban looked poised to prod home at the far post, but he could only divert the ball into the side-netting.

The Londoners committed a flurry of fouls in their own half, which gave the U's a chance to propel several free-kicks into the box. Skipper Matt Paine nodded one in the direction of Wareham, who was closed down before he could do any damage.

United spurned a great chance to equalise in the 65th minute. O'Connor was impeded in the box, resulting in a penalty, but Webb saw his spot kick well saved by Wilkinson. The home keeper dived to his right to push the ball away.

Yet the U's were on level terms just two minutes later. Palace conceded yet another free-kick, and after a mad scramble on the edge of the penalty area, Wordsworth suddenly let fly with a shot that soared into the top corner of the net. It was a terrific strike.

Rampant Colchester had their hosts on the ropes, and they deservedly took the lead in the 71st minute. Curtis Haynes-Brown pumped a free-kick into the penalty area and when the ball was diverted across goal, the alert Wareham beat Wilkinson with a bullet header from 10 yards out.

The U's seemed to be in complete control, and heading for victory in normal time, until substitute Moses netted his shock equaliser with five minutes left.

Super sub Moses capped a strong run with a spectacular shot from 25 yards that flashed past keeper Hughes.

Deep into stoppage time and Wordsworth delivered a free-kick into the penalty area. Wareham directed his header on target, but this time Wilkinson was in the right place to catch it.

And so to extra-time. Grabban should have put Palace 3-2 up within 30 seconds, only to spoon his shot over the bar with an empty goal beckoning. That was a horrible miss.

But Grabban did score what proved to be the winner in the 95th minute. Keeper Hughes spilled a fierce shot from a free-kick and Grabban managed to poke the rebound home from the tightest of angles, despite the best efforts of Hughes, who tried to punch the ball away from his net.

Line-ups

Crystal Palace Youths: Wilkinson, Starkey (sub Kudjodi, 75), Swaibu, Fish, Hills, Straker, Smith (sub Lyons, 67) Spence, Dayton (sub Moses, 79), Grabban and Hall. Unused subs: Banks and Palmer.

Colchester United youths: A Hughes, Cross, Haynes-Brown, Bailey (sub Devaux, 46), Paine, Wordsworth, Elito (sub Petts, 46), O'Connor, Webb, C Hughes (sub Opoka, 60) and Wareham. Unused subs: Ross and Best.

Referee: Mr A Slaughter.

Meanwhile, Colchester United's senior team are preparing for back-to-back matches against MK Dons. The U's entertain the Dons in a League One fixture tomorrow, and then travel to the National Hockey Stadium for an LDV Vans Trophy southern area quarter-final on Tuesday evening.

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