Argyle Under-18s

Argyle Under-18s Win Youth Alliance League

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Argyle’s Under-18s were crowned champions of the South West division of the Youth Alliance League on Saturday afternoon when they made a dramatic, last-gasp comeback to draw 4-4 with Swindon Town.

The Greens went into the game knowing a win or a draw would be enough to clinch the division. Lose, though, and it was opponents Swindon who would pip them to the title.

Caleb Roberts was the man of the moment, scoring twice on the day, both goals coming from the penalty spot. His second spot-kick was the all-important equaliser in additional time that won the Greens the title.

Freddie Issaka marked his return to the Under-18 side with a first-half goal, Joel Sullivan the other scorer with a superb long-range effort.

Manager Jamie Lowry made three changes to the side that beat Cheltenham Town just over a week ago. Joe Hatch dropped to the bench after picking up an injury during the week in training, and the returning Issaka took his place leading the line.

Cole Fisher and Henry Donovan were the two other players to miss out, as Sam Lord and Jack Matthews took their places.

With these changes also came a change in formation, the Greens went with a back three that included Matthews, Jensen Ireland, and Cole Gibbings. Lewis Colwell and Joel Sullivan played as wing-backs, with Lord and Josh Bernard playing deeper in midfield, Roberts just ahead of them in the number ten role.

Tegan Finn and Issaka lead the line as a strike duo, a partnership that had 20 goals between them coming into this fixture.

warming up

The game started exactly as was expected: ferocious, tenacious and with Lowry’s side taking the game to their Wiltshire opposition, showing the visitors just why they sat top of the league.

For the opening ten minutes, it looked as though only one team was up for it with Argyle winning every second ball and pressing with incredible intensity.

The Pilgrims came inches from taking the lead in the tenth minute when Finn whipped a wicked cross towards the back post, inviting a team-mate to attack the ball.

Nobody in a green shirt was able to get close enough to the ball to divert it goalward and with Redman Evans in goal clearly not anticipating this he allowed Finn’s delivery to crash against the upright.

Despite the early Argyle onslaught, it would be Swindon that opened the scoring, against the run of play, in the 13th minute.

The lively Botan Ameen was found with a brilliant, lofted ball over the top of the Greens defence, and the forward made no mistake. He dinked the ball over Dan Holman, showing great composure, to give his side the lead.

There followed an instant response from Lowry’s side, who showed early on in this game what they are all about.

Colwell had ventured forward from wing-back and struck a powerful effort at Evans who could only parry the ball into danger. Issaka was in the right place at the right time to tuck away the rebound and bring the young Pilgrims back level just moments after falling behind.

Freddie Issaka celebrates

Argyle were denied by the woodwork once again in the 24th minute when Colwell’s cross was picked up by the wind and nearly beat Evans who was scrambling to palm the ball away.

Having ridden out a few waves of Argyle pressure, it was now Swindon’s turn to show what they were all about and they retook the lead in the 33rd minute.

A pinpoint cross from Joel McGregor unlocked the Pilgrims backline, allowing George Alston a free header which he thundered past Holman, who did not stand a chance.

Once again, Argyle had the chance to make an instant response. Issaka’s well-struck free-kick forced a low save from Evans, and it was Finn’s turn to fire in the follow-up, but he was unable to hit the target with his effort.

There was a warning sign from the Robins when Botan Ameen headed just inches over from yards out in the dying moments of the first half.

Despite this, Argyle did not tighten up at the back and conceded once again before half-time. Josh Keyes, the scorer of Swindon’s third, was slipped in down the right and confidently slotted the ball past Holman, extending the visitors’ lead.

The half-time interval came, and Argyle trailed 3-1, despite having started much the better side and dominating the early chances and possession.

Nonetheless, the Greens had to dust themselves off and believe they could find their way back into this game – or else the title was destined to head back to Wiltshire.

argyle v swindon action

Lowry’s side were slow off the blocks at the beginning of the second half and conceded once again, making it 4-1 to Swindon.

Keyes started the second half how he ended the first, by finding the back of the net after winning the ball back well in midfield and firing past Holman.

What had already looked a tough ask at half-time was now looking borderline impossible for the young Greens.

But, if any team could find a way, it would be this one.

Minutes after the gut-wrenching fourth goal for Swindon, Argyle fired back, refusing to lay down and be defeated.

Issaka danced his way from the right wing into the centre before rolling the ball to the left-hand side where Sullivan had pushed up. The defender took a touch to set himself before hammering the ball into the top-right corner from the edge of the area, Evans able to only watch it fly into the back of the net.

The fightback continued. Five minutes later, Bernard swung a free-kick into the area that was punched clear by Evans. Issaka brought the ball down well inside the box and went to flick it past Sonny Hart to continue the attack. In an act of desperation, the defender handled the ball, giving the referee no other choice but to award Argyle a penalty.

With the rain lashing down it would have been easy for Roberts to screw the ball wide, but he remained composed and tucked it low into the bottom-left corner beyond the grasp of Evans, reducing the deficit to a single goal.

Clearly disappointed with the penalty decision against him, Hart vocalised his thoughts on the matter to the referee and found himself walking back to the changing room just moments later having been shown a red card for dissent.

Now, Argyle needed just one more goal and had the best part of half an hour to find it against the ten men of Swindon.

argyle v Swindon action

As anyone would, the Robins sat deep and soaked up the Greens pressure. In two banks of four with a lone striker, Swindon did not offer Argyle many chances to take aim at goal with efforts from range proving the only way to threaten Evans’ goal.

Lowry’s side thought they had the breakthrough when substitute Hatch converted from Colwell’s cross, but the linesman had his flag up to indicate offside and the hunt for the elusive equaliser continued.

As the end of the game drew closer, the Pilgrims threw everything they had at the Robins, but it seemed that the away side had just enough to keep Argyle at bay and deny them the title.

Up stepped Jack Matthews. A trademark marauding run from the central defender opened the door ajar for the Greens. He skipped past one red shirt and then another before being brought down just yards into the penalty area.

Millennium Fields erupted into a cauldron of noise as everyone of a green persuasion looked toward the referee to see what he made of the challenge.

After a brief chat with the linesman the man in the middle awarded the spot-kick judging the foul on Matthews to have taken place in the penalty area.

Up stepped Roberts again to take the penalty kick. He took four steps back and paused before briefly looking up at Evans in goal.

He stuttered up to the ball before passing the ball into the bottom-right corner, sending Evans the wrong way and winning Argyle the Youth Alliance League.

The whole team wheeled away in celebration as they etched their names into history, coming from 4-1 down to level the game and win the title.

Caleb Roberts celebrates

Mere moments after play restarted, the referee blew the whistle curtailing the game and the Youth Alliance League season: Argyle were the champions.

If one game could perfectly summarise a team it would be this one. Resilience, perseverance and never giving up, principles that have been instilled into Lowry’s team all season.

Whilst all the players and staff involved will enjoy this moment and revel in the celebrations, attentions will quickly turn to the Merit League which kicks off next weekend, another chance for the young Greens to emulate this feeling and win another trophy.

But for now, the future is certainly looking bright.

Argyle: Dan Holman, Lewis Colwell ©, Joel Sullivan, Jack Matthews, Jensen Ireland (Henry Donovan 79), Cole Gibbings, Freddie Issaka, Josh Bernard, Tegan Finn, Caleb Roberts, Sam Lord (Joe Hatch 51). Substitutes not used: Toby Haley, Oscar Dean, Jack Flower.

Team photo

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