David Freezer: Hopes of glory are dashed but battle is only just beginning for young Canaries
Archant © 2018
As another FA Youth Cup adventure comes to an end, David Freezer takes a look at which of Norwich City’s academy youngsters impressed during their run to the quarter-finals of the prestigious competition.
The FA Youth Cup dream may be over for another group of Norwich City’s academy hopefuls but their journey is only just beginning.
For second-year scholars such as Timi Odusina, Max Aarons and Anthony Spyrou, their days in the prestigious competition came to an end at a snowbound Carrow Road on Tuesday night.
David Wright’s young squad had shown impressive character and attacking style to force their way through to the quarter-finals, which had sparked hopes of replicating the class of 2013.
Five years ago it was the likes of the Murphy twins, Cameron McGeehan and Carlton Morris making the headlines, bringing in big crowds and sealing a famous 4-2 aggregate final win over the country’s dominant academy set-up, Chelsea.
January’s exit of Harry Toffolo left just two of that victorious Youth Cup squad on the books at Carrow Road, emphasising just how difficult it is for academy players to kick on and forge a fully-fledged professional career.
In total that crop of U18s have so far made 142 appearances and scored 27 goals for the Canaries, with Josh Murphy closing in on his 100th appearance, brother Jacob sold to Newcastle in a deal worth around £12m last summer and Carlton Morris still to come back from a loan which has been progressing well at the top of League One with Shrewsbury.
Muddying those waters slightly is that loan keeper Angus Gunn would have been part of Neil Adams’ youth team five seasons ago, had he not joined Manchester City two years earlier when his family moved to the north-west.
Adams, Gunn and Josh Murphy were among around 1,500 interested spectators as the current cohort were beaten 3-1 by Birmingham earlier this week.
First team head coach Daniel Farke, sporting director Stuart Webber, managing director Steve Stone and majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones were all there as well – hoping to see the competition bring fresh excitement about the latest Canaries crop.
Unfortunately it was a stretch too far, with chances wasted in the first half before the Blues raced into a 3-0 lead after the break, making Essex-raised forward Spyrou’s late goal nothing more than a consolation.
The disappointment was obvious as heavy snow fell at the final whistle, with the visitors milking their moment and celebrating by sliding around in the snow in front of their despondent opponents.
Temperatures dropped as low as -3C during the quarter-final tie and it was City’s academy starlets who froze on the big occasion.
Wright’s group had already shown what they could do though, coming from behind at Carrow Road in each of the previous rounds, obliterating Barnsley with four goals in 10 minutes in the third round, including an Adam Idah hat-trick, to win 4-1.
The drama really ramped up in the next round, coming from behind twice against Derby but only taking the game to extra-time thanks to a fine penalty save from Ryan Dickerson late on, before goals from Odusina and Spyrou sealed progress.
Extra-time was needed again to get past Newcastle, coming back from 2-0 down to lead 3-2, only to concede in injury-time. Tall forward Spyrou – the top scorer for City in the competition with five goals – completed that win and booked the club’s third quarter-final in three seasons.
Birmingham denied the Canaries a reunion with Chelsea in the semi-finals though, who are aiming to lift the trophy for a fifth consecutive season.
It leaves just five matches of the season for the U18s to try and climb off the bottom of U18 Premier League South, having won two and drawn four of their games so far. The group is already evolving though, with a number of U16s players involved in a 3-0 loss to West Ham on Saturday.
The likes of speedy right-back Aarons, lively left-back Bilal Kamal and strapping centre-back Odusina are already regulars for the U23s now looking to push for training time with the first team.
Spyrou, Irish striker Idah and winger Alan Fleming – City’s brightest attacking threat on Tuesday – have all had a taste of the U23s and will hope to kick on.
Youth Cup disappointment will not make or break their careers but it can add determination to the mix as they fight to become part of the small percentage of academy players who make it as first-team players.
FA YOUTH CUP 2017-18
• Third round – City 4 (Idah 3, Spyrou) Barnsley 1
• Fourth round – City 4 (Fleming, Kamal pen, Odusina, Spyrou) Derby 2 AET
• Fifth round – City 4 (Spyrou 2, Odusina, Fleming) Newcastle 3 AET
• Quarter-final – City 1 (Spyrou) Birmingham 3