A Fabio Lopes strike sent Oxford United's under 18s through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup tonight with a 1-0 win over Maidenhead United at Court Place Farm.
There was an age difference between the sides, with three of the Maidenhead side just 16 and having to play against the likes of Lopes, Nico Jones, Fabio Sole and Tyler Goodrham, who have all featured in United’s senior side this season; others from this promising batch will surely follow, but tonight the teams were evenly matched in a very hard-fought cup game.
The National League side’s youngsters started well and United's centre backs Jones and Viktor Milton both needed to make good clearances either side of speculative efforts from the excellent Lopes at the other end, both of which flashed wide of the left-hand post.
U’s keeper Max Evans had a couple of straightforward saves to make, but opposite number Fred Chapman made the best save of the first half to get down sharply to his left and keep out a Callum Crook volley after 34 minutes. He was less confident when dealing with a Goodrham effort moments later and helpless when left back Michael Elechi fired just wide with the last kick of the half, but level pegging was probably fair at the break.
Evans then came to the rescue a minute into the second half with a brilliant save from Lewis Boniface as the winger raced into the United box, and the keeper also had to beat away two further efforts from inside the box as Maidenhead raised the tempo and sensed that they could cause an upset.
Try as they might, United couldn't quite work an opening; Leon Chambers-Parillon came close to doing so on a couple of occasions and Crook, playing on the shoulder of the last defender, guided a header just wide on 70 before thumping a volley wide on 74 as United began to press.
That pressure finally paid off on 77 when Lopes found a way through. It was his tackle that started it, with the ball squirming to Goodrham who had the speed of mind to roll the ball through for Lopes, who had stayed on his feet and was clear on goal. With Crook screaming for the ball to his right, Lopes opted instead to try his luck and steered the ball past Chapman for a very well taken goal.
Maidenhead gambled, as they had to, and United might have killed the game off as it went end to end, but that's irrelevant. A win is a win and they go through to face Preston North End at home in the fourth round: a great achievement for this talented young side who can go in to their Christmas break happy with a job well done.
Evans, Johnson, Milton, Jones, Elechi, Sole, Chambers-Parillon, Ferguson (Smith), Goodrham, Lopes, Crook
Subs: Brearey, Edwards, Gardner, Owens, Masters, Nosakhare
Report by Chris Williams