Oxford United's youngsters put in a magnificent effort at Burnley tonight in the FA Youth Cup. Burnley went ahead in the first half but a late equaliser from Ryan Crooks took the game to extra time. With no further score in the added 30 minutes, despite Burnley going down to nine men, the game went to penalties, with United eventually going through despite missing their first spot kick.
United had the worst start possible when keeper Max Evans seemed to have plenty of time to clear from just outside his area but was horrified to see Michael Fowler come from nowhere to charge his clearance down. The ball ran kindly for the Clarets striker who bounded clear and rolled in to an empty net to make it 1-0. That only served to spur on the U's for a fantastic effort that saw them give it absolutely everything.
Even that opening goal was harsh on the U’s, who went on to dominate much of the first half. Owen James on the left was lively, Kyran Lofthouse was always willing to join the attack down the right and with Slavi Spasov heading a Lofthouse cross just wide, United were far from overawed on the lush Turf Moor pitch.
Lofthouse was denied by a fine tackle half way through the half and a scramble led to a clearance off the line from the backtracking Burnley back line. James fired into the side netting in injury time and at half time the U’s were still very much in the game.
Their Premier League opponents understandably picked up the game after the break and the dangerous Kai Smith saw a shot cleared off the line by the rock-solid Freddie Niblett and then had a curling effort pushed round the post by the flying Evans to keep the U’s in the tie.
However, those chances were on the break against a United side committing more and more men forward. Central midfielder Leon Chambers-Parillon drilled a low effort inches wide and a string of James corners caused Burnley problems, although if there was one criticism it was that keeper Kai Calderbank-Park wasn't forced into a serious save, despite all the pressure from the U's.
That all changed with five minutes to go. A long throw into the box wasn't cleared and Lofthouse kept the ball alive, flicking it to his left where Crooks turned and fired home to spark huge celebrations. As Crooks tried to retrieve the ball to get on with the game, defender Bobby Thomas took exception and punched him to the ground, seeing a red card and leaving his team to see things through with ten men.
It then became a question of whether United could finish the job. Spasov's header dropped wide as time ran out and then the same player sliced a chance wide in the second minute of injury time. United dominated that 30 minutes, with Burnley happy to concede ground and see if the U's could break them down.
They accepted the challenge and laid siege to the Clarets' goal and with time running out must have thought they were going through when defender Edon Pruti handled on the line, seeing red for doing so, and Lofthouse lined up a penalty. Agonisingly the keeper saved it and United's best chance had gone.
And so to penalties...
Burnley struck first through Fenlon before substitute Jack Stevens sent his spot kick over the bar. Max Evans then redeemed himself with a superb save to keep out Matty Rains. Freddie Niblett equalised but Kian Yari made it 2-1. Goalscorer Ryan Crooks grabbed another equaliser and then Michael Fowler shot wide to give United the advantage following Michael Elechi's scoring penalty. Ethan Kershaw had to score to keep the Clarets in the tie but Evans completed his redemption with a great save to send the U's through to the fourth round, where they will face either Mansfield Town or AFC Bournemouth at home.
Evans, Sampford (Stevens), Niblett, Jones, Elechi, Lofthouse, McCreadie, Chambers-Parillon (Goodrham), O James, Spasov (Edwards), Lopes (Crooks)