Two great goals from Kieran Helsdown and two fine saves from young goalkeeper Henry Smith in a late Wednesday night penalty shoot out capped a memorable and dramatic evening for City’s Youth Team as they overcame an excellent Port Vale side at Sincil Bank Stadium to reach the semi-final of this year’s Midland Youth Cup.
The Imps made two changes with first year scholars Liam Harris in midfield and Lewis Millington in attack. It was Vale who started brightly, pressing high and making it difficult for the Imps to settle. But with their first attack, some quick link up play released full back Mason Love and his first time cross found Jenk Acar who volleyed and Kieran Helsdown nipped in to finish from close range.
The home side now settled and although Vale had some possession in their own half, the Imps looked a real threat on the counter with Millington and Acar, supported by Harris and Josh-Barr Rostron breaking from midfield.
More good link up play and another cross found Millington who headed just wide, then another brilliant run from Acar won City a free kick from which Love rattled the bar. Helsdown and Barr-Rostron both shot just wide from distance as the Imps piled on the pressure. But just before the break Vale were level with a fine strike which beat Smith to his right.
The Imps rallied again and began to press higher, forcing Vale to play longer. Centre backs Jordon Cooke and Connor Griffin dealt well with Vale’s aerial threat all evening while skipper Marlon Grundy worked tirelessly against the visitors’ dangerous wide men.
Cooke headed just wide from a Love corner, but on 70 minutes the Imps were back in front when Helsdown bravely converted another Love corner with a fine header. Jordan Harper and Andrew Wright now replaced Millington and Harris to give the Imps fresh legs as Vale pressed for a leveller, and despite some fantastic defending the visitors’ pressure paid off and with just four minutes on the clock the Imps were pegged back to 2-2.
Into extra-time and the game was becoming stretched but it was the home side which enjoyed more possession in the first period, with Harper breaking clear to force a fine save. Helsdown, who was excellent all night, fired over the bar in the second period, while Vale saw two headers flash wide from set pieces. Leon Loftus replaced Barr-Rostron and almost broke clear, before another fine run from Acar brought what appeared to be a foul in the box, but the result was corner.
Extra-time finished all square and so the drama continued. The Imps showed tremendous courage in the shoot out with Wright, Helsdown, Harper and Acar all converting brilliantly, and two outstanding reflex saves from Smith made it 4-3 on penalties.
The Imps resilient, hard-working efforts against a very good Vale side are rewarded with a trip to Walsall in the semi-final.
Team: Smith, Grundy, Love, Fewkes, Cooke, Griffin, Millington (Harper 70), Harris (Wright 70), Helsdown, Acar, Barr-Rostron (Loftus 110). Subs not used: Walton, Clarke.