U18 REPORT: Arsenal 1-2 Southampton

By SFC Media time Sat 02 May U 18

A brace from former Gunner Harley Willard earned Southampton’s Under-18s a 2-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday.

Willard’s strikes – his third and fourth of the season – came either side of Harry Donovan’s leveller during an entertaining first half, but it was a resolute defensive display which helped Anthony Limbrick’s youngsters hold on for the win.

Facing a side who currently lie bottom of the Barclays Under-18 Premier League play-off Group Three, Saints began with purpose, and Callum Slattery saw his tame effort saved comfortably by Ryan Huddart by after some strong running from another former Arsenal player, Olufela Olomola.

Then, Arsenal full-back Aaron Eyoma broke free down the right-hand side and delivered an inviting centre for Josh Da Silva, who beat the onrushing Jake Hallett to the ball but, despite connecting well, his effort went over.

With one trialist starting and another on the bench in addition to a completely new-look back four, it could have been a difficult morning for Limbrick’s youngsters. 

But the reality was somewhat different; pressing and probing, Saints found weak spots in the Gunners’ armoury and first Stuart Wilkin and then Willard both went close to finding an opener in the early exchanges.

Wilkin, who has come to the fore in recent weeks, glanced a header just over before Willard rippled the sidenetting, but he didn’t have long to wait before he got himself on the scoresheet. Cutting inside onto his favoured left foot, the winger curled past Huddart from the angle of the area to grab his third of the campaign and put the visitors in front after 18 minutes.

However, the lead didn’t last long. Though only a sporadic threat, Arsenal pulled themselves level when Da Silva’s low centre was met my Harry Donovan who, despite not getting the cleanest of connections on the cross, managed to divert it into the bottom left-hand corner beyond the despairing grasp of Hallett.

Southampton recovered well, though, and were soon back in front. Chris Regis made a burst down the middle just after the half hour mark, and fed Willard in space on the right. Unlike his first goal, he opted not to cut inside, but instead found the far corner with a low shot that deservedly saw them lead at the break.

Reiss Nelson sounded the first warning that Arsenal wouldn’t be beaten easily after the restart, lashing a free-kick just wide of the target from distance, and aside from that it was much of the same, with Frans De Kat’s side unable to carve out any real scoring opportunities.

Part of that was down to the makeshift backline consisting of Connor Langan, on just his second start at Under-18 level, Ben Rowthorn, Ben Cull and Richard Bakary, who doggedly stuck to task, frustrating the Gunners’ frontline.

Dan Demkiv was introduced in place of Slattery on the hour, and the wideman’s pace and direct style soon had Arsenal on the back foot, with his low cross from the left cut out by Huddart with Olomola poised to pounce.

At the other end, Richard Bakary had to clear Eddie Nicetiah’s cross-shot and Da Silva remained a lively threat but, to Saints’ credit, they held firm without really creating anything in the latter 45 of their penultimate fixture of the season, aside from a last-gasp Demkiv effort which cannoned off the crossbar to Willard, who also struck the woodwork with the rebound. It mattered little, though, and Saints will now welcome Bolton to Staplewood next weekend having lost just once in their last five play-off games.

Arsenal: Ryan Huddart, Aaron Eyoma (Togi Omole 65), Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, Harry Donovan, Kris Da Graca, Elliot Wright, Nathan Tella (Charlie Gilmour 78), Savvas Mourgos, Josh Da Silva, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nicetiah (Joe Willock 73).

Unused substitutes: Hugo Keto.

Goal: Harry Donovan (22)

Southampton: Jake Hallett, Connor Langan, Ben Rowthorn, Ben Cull, Richard Bakary, A. Trialist, Chris Regis, Callum Slattery (Dan Demkiv 60), Harley Willard, Stuart Wilkin, Olufela Olomola (Tyreke Johnson 80).

Unused substitutes: Harry Isted, B. Trialist.

Goal: Harley Willard (18, 32)

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