Wands praise for gallant Glos U-18s as they cruise past Kent to book third-round spot
They did so courtesy of a memorable 6-2 success over Kent FA at Maidstone United’s impressive 4,200-capacity Gallagher Stadium, a feat that transports them into third-stage combat with Birmingham FA on more familiar Oaklands Park 3G territory in Almondsbury on Saturday, December 8 (2pm).
Last season’s semi-finalists Gloucestershire didn’t always have it their own way as they found themselves pegged back to 2-2 in the early throes of the second half after carrying a hard-fought two-goal lead into the interval.
But they roused themselves for more – much more – to score four more times after the break to keep the national trophy dream alive.
The ambitious visitors, who like their hosts had been waved through to the second round via a first-round bye, were overseen by 22-year-old Wands and 21-year-old stand-in assistant Phil Clarke, the under-18s’ goalkeeping coach, who together formed a youngest-ever GFA representative management team on the day.
And it was their charges who struck first on nine minutes as centre-back Sam Larkins headed home a Jay Murray corner.
Shortly before the break the Glos boys doubled their advantage as central midfielder Cameron Rees drilled a sweet 20-yard shot into the net after industrious right-winger Andre Freckleton had dispossessed a Kent defender before skillfully teeing up his team-mate.
The tide began to turn for a spell five minutes into the second half as a Freddie Entwhistle through ball caught the Gloucestershire rearguard off guard and led to a cool George Robinson finish for 2-1.
And five minutes later the ball was deemed to have crossed the Glos goal-line from a Baily Sinnock header, despite Murray and his comrades believing he’d hacked it away in the nick of time.
Frustrated but unbowed, Gloucestershire dusted themselves down and reclaimed the lead shortly after when Larkins’ miscued strike from Harry Simons’ free-kick struck an unsuspecting George Porter and flew into the net for an own-goal helping-hand.
It was just the stroke of fortune they needed and the gallant Glos boys restored their original two-goal cushion when a brilliant pass by Murray took out the entire Kent back four and sat perfectly for Freckleton to complete the move with an unerring shot from just inside the box.
An on-song Murray added a fifth as he tore past the Kent right-back, much as his famous father Scott had done in a Bristol City shirt in his pomp, before rounding the keeper and netting, before substitute striker Miguel Freckleton received an astute pass from his influential brother Andre before turning and fizzing the ball into the net in one swift movement.
Wands smiled: “Miguel is only 15 and he was one of our under-16s brought into the squad at the last minute.
“He’s tall, quick and has great technique and he did not look out of place at the older level after coming on at 2-2.
“It was a really professional and strong performance by all the lads against a very physical Kent team who were clearly intent on making life as difficult as possible for us, especially over the first 20 minutes.
“The Kent camp must have watched the highlights of our recent Cornwall win (4-1) or done some other research on us.
“Credit to our boys, they didn’t get embroiled in anything untoward and kept their discipline and heads in the heat of what was a battle at times.”
Gloucestershire had also suffered a 20th minute setback when their keeper Archie Watts had to be withdrawn with concussion following a nasty-looking collision with an opponent.
Joe Wright filled the breach capably and Wands acknowledged: “He did very well. Joe looked confident and distributed well, as well as making some important saves.”
Kent FA boss Ian Varley conceded: “No doubt about it, we were beaten by the better team on the day.
“Our boys did very well to get it back to 2-2 and at that moment I thought we would go on and win it, but unfortunately we made a number of individual errors that cost us in the end.
“The score certainly doesn’t reflect the game as a whole but they were clinical in the final 15 minutes so fair play to them.
“I wish them all the very best for the rest of the season.”