Youngsters hold their nerve

by Ashley Houghton

Reaction following U18s' dramatic win over Villa.

U18 coach Craig Liddle praised the young Black Cats’ bottle after they won a tense penalty shoot-out to progress to the semi-finals of the Barclays U18 Premier League play-offs.

Martin Smith scored the winning spot-kick for the Wearsiders as they defeated Aston Villa in a clash which saw both sides reduced to ten men.

The game had finished 1-1 and the youngsters showed great character to earn a trip to Fulham on Wednesday in the semi-finals.

“I think when it gets to penalties it’s a lottery but our lads held their nerve and we’re delighted for them because at times we came under quite a lot of pressure from an excellent side,” Liddle said.

“We dug in at the end and it was a just reward for their all-round performance.

“They [Aston Villa] won the NextGen competition and they’ve won their group so for long periods of time we had to defend.

“I thought the lads kept the shape and their discipline well and at times they found it hard to break us down - it was a good all-round battling display.”

Liddle also reserved special praise for midfielder Liam Agnew who scored in his third consecutive game to equalise on the half-hour.

Agnew has played more games than any other under-18 this season, and Liddle says his all-round performance was superb.

“That’s the second one he’s had that was deflected,” he joked.

“In all seriousness, he deserved the goal for his all-round performance; I thought he played really well in midfield for us.”

The side will now prepare for a trip to London on Wednesday, and Liddle says it’s pleasing to have the season extended.

“When you’re winning games you want to keep the season going for as long as possible,” he said.

“It’ll be a tough game down there but one I’m sure one the lads will look forward to.”