Blyth Spartans U19’s 0-2 York City U19’s – National League Youth Alliance Cup Semi Final (20/3/24)

Blyth Spartans under 19’s fell to York City in the semi-final of the National League Academy Cup, in what was a competitive game that ended the academy’s hopes of a historic National League Alliance treble. 

Graham Fenton’s young side started the game on the front foot, with both Billy Gordon and Rio Joisce in total control of the midfield as Blyth bossed possession and tempo in the early exchanges. 

In the opening 5 minutes young left back Sam Nicholson won a corner for Blyth but received a rather nasty knock in the process. He bravely tried to play on but was forced off soon after, leaving the pitch in agony. 

Attacking midfielder Olly Farley replaced him, with central midfielder Luca Shilling becoming a makeshift left back.

Despite Nicholson being forced off, Blyth continued to cause York trouble, especially down the left flank as Farley beat numerous players to take the ball down the line but his ball into box was snatched by the York keeper.

York’s high line almost exposed them early on, as a poor pass back to a defender allowed Farley to rob the ball and advance forward to play in striker Michael Johnstone, but he was quickly smothered by two centre backs before he had a chance to have a shot on goal.

Despite nearly leaking a goal, York continued with their high line which the young Spartans looked to penetrate – though by now the York youngsters began to find their feet and establish themselves in the game.

They began to take control of the game after about 20 minutes, as a midfielder from the away side was able to play in their striker, but Hogan was able to rush out and make a point blank save.

Following the injury to Nicholson, both sides began to put some rather aggressive tackles in, with centre back Giacomini and makeshift centre back Paul Dudgeon putting themselves about.

Hogan was once again called into action though, as York burst down Blyth’s right hand side which was wipped into the box where a scramble ensued, which ended up with Hogan to making a very close range save from a rebound.

The young Spartans keeper was on hand once again just moments later as a long ball found a York forward, who controlled it just inside the box – though Hogan was able to close down his effort rather quickly.

Spartans nearly took the lead with some good play down the left flank once again, though Billy Gordon’s effort just outside the box was dragged narrowly wide.

In what was possibly one of the funniest moments of the game, Spartans striker Michael Johnstone chased down a loose ball on the flank while being closed down by a defender, hooking the ball back into play which went straight off the face of a York City defender – which won Spartans a throw in.

Right before half time though York had the lead, as Spartans were bettered from a corner which was headed at goal by York’s Bill Marshall, who narrowly beat Hogan.

On the stroke of half time Blyth they nearly made it it 1-1 though, as Farley was adjudged to have taken the ball out of play when dribbling the ball along the byline, feeding in Owen Mitchell on the other side of the 6-yard box who put the ball in the back of the net.

The start of the second half saw the young Spartans in control of the game, as they passed it around really well but simply could not create much in the final third due to how well organised the York defence was and how big their centre backs were.

Some good interlinking play from Rio and Billy saw the later in space outside the box once again, but his effort was dragged just wide of the post.

Despite Blyth maintaining pressure, York did try to advance and create chances for themselves still, though Blyth were quick to counter when given the chance.

After Blyth’s efforts in the opening stages of the half the game, the tempo began to slow down. That was until a long searching ball beat Blyth’s high line, but thankfully it was picked up by Michael Hogan who was about 40 yards out from his goal, who then turned into prime Manuel Neuer as he beat a York forward, dribbled the ball into the York half, beat a midfielder and laid the ball off to Owen Mitchell on Blyth’s right flank – but sadly no one was able to get on the end of his cross into the 6 yard box.

Blyth kept the pressure on as a ball from the right flank found Billy Gordon, who picked out Rio in some space on the edge of the box – but his effort went just inches wide of the goal.

Spartans were in charge of the game again and really chasing an equaliser, when a loose ball went out on the right-side of the pitch, and a quick throw in was taken by Owen Mitchell, who played in the over lapping Josh Norvell, but the York keeper gathered the ball at the edge of the 6-yard box before it could arrive at the feat of a Blyth player.

After the flurry of half chances for Blyth, the away side began to take control once again. A long searching ball forward was cleared away by Dudgeon, but the ball was quickly deflected straight back In the Spartans box – though fellow centre back Giacomini was able to hook it away.

Afterwards a corner from York saw shouts for a penalty, though linesman Kieth Scoffman was having none of it, judging the two York forwards to have collided with each other.

The visitors made it 2-0 not long after though, as a free kick pipped Hogan at his near post to double York’s lead with only 10 minutes left to go.

Blyth kept on advancing though, as they won a free kick about 25 yards out – which Owen Mitchell lashed into the hands of the York keeper, who had a very good game.

No more clear-cut chances fell Spartans way sadly, and York City were able to see the game out and advance to St. George’s Park for the final.

As academy games go, that was one of the best I’ve seen so far. Both teams were up for it, aggressive and seemingly desperate to secure the win.

Between both York and Blyth, it’s rather hard to call it in terms of who’s the best National League academy side in the North.

Blyth – Michael Hogan, Josh Norvell, Sam Nicholson (Olly Farley), Oscar Hartley, Paul Dudgeon (C), Lucas Giacomini, Owen Mitchell, Luca Shilling, Michael Johnstone, Billy Gordon, Rio Joisce

Unused subs – McNicol, Zych, Whittaker