Rotherham United’s youngsters were dealt a second cup heartbreak in the 2020/21 campaign as they were desperately unfortunate to find themselves on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline against Premier League outfit Arsenal, who profited from a goal moments from the end.
A brave performance from Rob Poulter’s youngsters deserved more than the cruel manner in which they were defeated as Mazeed Ogungbo headed home an 88th minute winner, after a hotly-contested affair between the two sides played out at AESSEAL New York Stadium.
The Gunners had taken the lead through a wonderstrike from Charlie Patino, but the Millers battled their way back into the game, winning a penalty which skipper Jerome Greaves despatched with confidence.
With the game looking destined to end even after 90 minutes, it was a set piece which would prove the Millers’ undoing, as Ogungbo atoned for his earlier error, heading home the winner from a Giraud-Hutchinson cross.
The Millers looked to try and catch the first sight of goal with just three minutes on the clock when Haroon Salah’s delivery from a corner was well met by Nathan Watson in the area, but the midfielder was unable to steer his header towards the target.
Nathan Butler attempted to fashion a similar opportunity for Arsenal at the other end from another dead ball situation but a claim from Alfie Burnett among a sea of bodies ensured that the visitors’ first foray forward of note, came to nothing.
The Gunners had shown flashes of their quality in the early exchanges without really troubling the Millers who had defended with discipline but they did test Burnett when Charlie Patino’s long-ranger took a deflection before looping into the ‘keeper’s arms.
With 15 minutes on the clock the Premier League outfit were handed another opportunity to test the ‘keeper from a near-perfect shooting position from a free kick following a foul from Charlie Smith. Omari Giraud-Hutchinson took charge of the dead ball and whilst his effort was up and over the wall, it failed to trouble Burnett.
The half hour mark came and went without any real incident and whilst the visitors had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they had failed to find a way through an organised Rotherham rearguard.
However, just seconds later came the Millers best opportunity of the half and with it a huge shout for a huge penalty.
Haroon Salah’s composure in the penalty area was nicely teed up for Ciaran McGuckin before the ball landed with George Scott just inside the 18 yard box. The midfielder’s clever touch took him away from the Arsenal defender before there looked to be contact, only for the referee to wave away the protests of a number of home players.
Some heroic defending from the Millers five minutes later ensured that Butler was unable to turn the ball goalwards despite the ball dropping kindly for him in the area, as two red shirts threw their bodies in front of him to deny him the chance.
Another superb intervention in the home penalty area halted a swashbuckling Gunners attack, which had almost come to fruition when a cutback fell to Marcelo Flores, only to have Mason Booth slide into his path and block the inevitable shot.
Kido Taylor-Hart’s daisycutter from 25 yards would prove to be the last act of the half, with the effort typifying Arsenal’s efforts on goal in the opening 45 minutes with the shot proving a comfortable save for Burnett.
Half-time | Academy 0 v 0 Arsenal
The second half started in a similar vein to the first and there was no real goalmouth action in the opening 10 minutes of the half.
The Gunners were the first to get a shot of note away in the second stanza when Giraud-Hutchinson found a pocket of space in the penalty area but couldn’t guide his sweetly struck effort the right side of Burnett’s far post.
The same player threatened again moments later, this time cutting in from the opposite flank where again, his driven effort flashed across the face of goal and wide of the target.
Mazeed Ogungbo was next to try his luck for Arsenal but the recurring theme continued as his tame effort was easily smothered by Burnett down to his left.
65 minutes had passed when the Gunners’ skipper Alex Kirk tried to take charge of his side’s fortunes by drilling a 25 yarder at goal which he caught nicely, but again, was thwarted by a smart save from the Millers stopper, who had been busy but looked comfortable all night.
The Millers caused a bit of chaos in the visiting penalty area when a dangerous delivery from Mack Warne found its way into a good area, where a brave claim from Ovie Ejehri ensured that the surrounding red shirts couldn’t capitalise.
The game had looked in need of a bit of magic and it was given just that 15 minutes from the end.
Having limited the visitors to half chances throughout, the Millers resilience was undone with a piece of individual brilliance when Patino took aim from 25 yards and thundered an effort into the far top corner, this time leaving Burnett with no chance of denying him.
Poulter’s side almost replied instantly with a flowing move down the left which resulted in Ciaran McGuckin cleverly steering Jerome Greaves’ low cross at goal, only to see Ejehri down smartly at his near post to gather.
On 80 minutes, a lapse in concentration was capitalised on by the Millers as McGuckin showed good altertness to seize on a loose ball before being hacked down in the penalty area, leaving the officials with no choice but to signal to the spot for a stone wall penalty.
With the pressure of the Millers’ FA Youth Cup progression hopes on his shoulders, Greaves stepped up and appeared to feel none of it, lashing home after a composed run up to send the ‘keeper the wrong way and restore parity at 1-1.
The young Millers were once again dealt a cup heartbreak blow two minutes from time when Giraud-Hutchinson’s corner was too hot for Burnett to handle, allowing Ogungbo the chance to make amends for conceding the penalty as he headed into the bottom corner to give the visitors the advantage once more.
The Millers continued to rally for an equaliser, even into added time but were unable to make a late set piece count despite loading bodies into the area to attack it.
Full-time | Academy 1 v 2 Arsenal
MILLERS | Burnett; Booth (Greenhouse 61), Makwedza, Exton, Smith; McGuckin, Watson, Scott, Salah (Durose 66); Warne (Kenny 90); Greaves.
SUBS | Ford, Hanley, Millen, Clark.