Sheffield United’s brave young Blades suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak in their Professional Development League 2 national play-off final against Charlton Athletic tonight.
United, who had led from as early as the sixth minute courtesy of Jordan Hallam’s stunning free-kick, were seconds away from winning the trophy before Karlan Ahearne-Grant’s late, late leveller forced extra time.
Ahearne-Grant’s free-kick was then, eventually, ruled out by the officials for offside before this U18 final was decided on spot-kicks, when home goalkeeper Jordan Beeney saved United skipper Shea Gordon’s tame effort to seal a 4-3 victory for the Addicks.
Both young sides had finished runners-up in their respective leagues, but it was United who began much the brighter under greying skies at The Valley.
As early as the third minute, Beeney was forced to save well from Connor Hall’s close-range effort - although he probably didn’t know much about it - and Ezri Konza blocked Hallam’s effort with his face. But no home defender could do much about Hallam’s early free-kick, curled high into Beeney’s top-right corner to give United a lead they very much deserved.
The first ten minutes were all United, and Konza had to be alert once more to deny Connor Hall after a defensive mix-up.
Sulaiman Bah wasted Charlton’s first two attempts at goal, first hitting wide before smashing over when well placed, and it wasn’t until the 43rd minute that Aaron Ramsdale, United’s young England goalkeeper, was forced into a save from Ahearne-Grant.
But that attempt signalled a change in the flow of the game, and the hosts began the second half much as they had ended the first; well on top.
Chris Millar drove a shot wide and Ramsdale denied Ahearne-Grant, before United substitute Brodie Litchfield had his shot saved after a rare foray forward.
Hall was booked for delaying the taking of a Charlton goal kick as United attempted to play down the clock, but they were pegged back right at the death as Ahearne-Grant was played in by impressive substitute Louis-Michel Yamfam to equalise, despite Ramsdale getting a hand on his effort.
Ramsdale kept his side in the tie in extra time, combining with the post to keep out Ahearne-Grant, and Callum Semple was booked for cynically bringing down Yamfam. But controversy reigned just before half time in extra time, as that man Ahearne-Grant curled home a stunning free-kick past Ramsdale. Charlton, though, had placed three players just in front of the United goalkeeper, who ran towards Ahearne-Grant as he struck the kick; obstructing Ramsdale’s view.
The referee originally gave the goal, before consulting with his assistant and giving offside. United were relieved, Charlton were incandescent with rage and the game was heading towards penalties.
Charlton, the reigning PDL2 champions, reached the final against United by beating Nottingham Forest on penalties.
Then, Beeney was their hero, saving two penalties; and so it proved here, as Gordon and Litchfield saw their efforts kept out.
Alex Brown had earlier put United ahead on penalties, and Ramsdale turned penalty taker to put them 2-1 ahead. Semple’s spot-kick sent Beeney the wrong way, but the Addicks goalkeeper redeemed himself by saving skipper Gordon’s effort and sealing the PDL2 title for his side.
Charlton: Beeney, Sarpong-Wiredu, Konsa, Yao, Doughty, Bone, Millar (Assiana, 62), Lapslie, Bah (Yamfam, 88), Anderson (Willis, 75), Ahearne-Grant. Subs not used: Prall, Maloney.
United: Ramsdale, Charlesworth, Brown, Gilmour, Cummings, Semple, Crofts (Litchfield, 58), Gordon, Hall (T Smith, 95), Hallam (Adebowale, 75), K Smith. Subs not used: Perryman, Slater.