Long Eaton United’s admirable FA Youth Cup run came to a heart-breaking end on Thursday night as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Rugby Town.
Mason Platts put the visitors ahead midway through the first half, with a delicate poacher’s finish from close range – a goal which turned out to be the only one for either side in the first 45 minutes.
A crushing blow was handed to the Blues late in the second half, as goalkeeper Mitchell Leivers was sent off for a challenge that the ref deemed to be dangerous, which meant Leo Stone could grab the visitors’ second with a penalty late on.
Curtis Burrows named an unchanged starting eleven to the one that overcame Buckingham Athletic U18s at Grange Park in the previous round – a side that displays buckets of determination and fight no matter whom they face.
Rugby began the better of the two sides, piling the pressure on the Blues’ defence and looking to capitalise with a lot of possession and consistent forward passes.
Their first chance came only four minutes into the match when Kasey Smith capitalised on a defensive mistake and unleashed a venomous volley towards goal from the edge of the box, but Leivers did fantastically to tip the ball over the bar.
Just over ten minutes later, the Blues had their first real chance, as Destiny Conteh – as proactive as ever – picked the ball up in his own half and drove past four Rugby players to get to the edge of the box and find Hugo Broughton for a shot on goal, however, the strike was blocked and did not trouble Max Harbin.
The visitors managed to take the lead in the 22nd minute through danger-man Platts. The forward was quickest to react after Leivers fumbled a Rugby strike just in front of his goal line and Platts simply tapped the ball into the empty net.
Joe Taylor had a chance to double Rugby’s lead midway through the first half – the full-back stood over a free-kick from 25 yards out down the right and struck the ball with his left foot towards the near post, but Leivers was quick to get across his goal line and cover the shot.
With around ten minutes left in the first half, Conteh came close himself with an audacious bicycle kick. Sachin Matharu did well to maintain the ball in the box and looked to play the ball through to Ryan Bache, who then lifted a cross into the box, straight to Conteh for an acrobatic effort – the ball hit the crossbar, but the referee blew for an earlier pass which was deemed to roll just out of play.
The Blues seemed to be fighting back and getting into their stride late in the first half, looking to drive forwards and swing crosses into the box, but the Rugby defence dealt with the problem well and saw the game out to lead at halftime.
Rugby started in the second, just as they did in the first, looking to pile on the pressure – Platts was given another chance only two minutes into the second half as he drove onto a forward pass in the box and struck low, although Leivers denied the forward once again.
Platts did not stop there – with his pace and power causing issues for the Blues all evening – as he had a chance ten minutes later. Another forward pass and another low strike on goal, but yet again Leivers was quick off his line to deny the forward.
Leivers seemed to have brilliantly stopped the forward once again in the 64th minute – the keeper was alert and committed to a tackle outside the box as he nicked the ball off Platts’ feet, however, the ref deemed that the shot-stopper did not take the ball and was shown a red card and given a bloody nose in the process.
20 minutes of back-and-forth play was to follow, and in fact, the next real chance did not come until the 83rd minute. Substitute Alfie Weston received the ball from a throw-in inside the box, turned his man, cut onto his right foot, and drove a strike that was saved comfortably by Harbin in-between the sticks.
In the dying moments of the match, Platts had his final chance for Rugby – the forward drove from his own half, after a Blues corner was cleared, all the way into the Blues’ box and struck a thunderous strike towards stand-in keeper Ben Bowers’ near post, but his effort thumped off the bar and was eventually cleared.
However, the visitors turned the ball over once again, found a way into Long Eaton’s 18-yard box and forced Savage into a challenge that meant the referee awarded a penalty to rub salt in the wounds. Stone stepped up and slotted the penalty into the bottom left corner, just out of Bowers’ reach.
That goal turned out to be the nail in the coffin for the Blues, as the referee blew the full-time whistle moments later and Rugby were handed passage into the second-round proper of the FA Youth Cup.