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Tuesday 09 Apr 2024
Larne dig deep to triumph in Youth Cup final

Larne Under-18s had to withstand late pressure from Crusaders’ U18s to lift the Harry Cavan Youth Cup tonight.

Goals from Bryce Gray and captain Jack Hastings were enough to see them over the line in the decider at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

The 2-1 success was effectively secured in the opening half hour when Andy Mitchell’s Larne Youth side dominated possession and found the net twice.

Larne, who had not won the Irish FA’s Youth Cup since 1978, played some slick attacking football at times, but they also needed to be strong defensively to secure the trophy.

The two NIFL Under 18 Academy League sides served up an entertaining game in front of around 700 spectators.

Man of the match Ryan Donnelly, who scored the only goal in the Crues’ semi-final win over Dungannon Swifts, had the first clearcut chance of the game. He raced from the halfway line towards goal but skied his shot.

Larne took the lead in the 17th minute thanks to a clever setpiece. Ross Ferguson took a free-kick and passed the ball to Callum Cowan, who had peeled away from his marker down the flank. Cowan then delivered a pinpoint cross to the near post where winger Gray was on hand to clip the ball into the net from eight yards.

Harrison Knight scooped an effort well wide as Larne continued to press.

Larne doubled their lead on 25 minutes when Hastings netted. The striker slipped past William Francey on the edge of the area and held off Joshua Ness before prodding the ball home from six yards. It was a classy bit of play by the forward.

In another Larne raid James Simpson fired in a tantalising low cross, however no-one could get on the end of it.

On 34 minutes the Crues pulled one back. Karter Bond delivered an inviting corner and unmarked striker Bernard Nsiah stooped to head the ball home from close range.

After the break Larne initially continued to have more of the ball.

Hastings, who scored for the young Inver Reds in their 1-0 semi-final success over Maiden City, was thwarted as he threatened to grab another goal.

Then Crusaders keeper Scott Marshal got down well to push away a stinging drive from Gray, who had jinked past a couple of Crues players inside the area before unleashing the shot.

Larne skipper Hastings was held up by a couple of Crusaders defenders as he ran from deep towards goal.

Donnelly got on the end of a clearance from a Crues corner but his goal-bound piledriver was blocked by a Larne defender.

A dangerous corner from Crusaders captain Bradley Maguire had to be tipped onto the top of the net by Larne keeper Zak Robinson, and then Bond fired in a cross which was superbly intercepted by Larne defender Logan Graham.

David Rainey’s Crusaders side turned the screw and forced a few corners in quick succession, although the Larne defence stood firm.

Larne substitute Ambrose Ajala tried to tee up Jay Patterson inside the area but the Crues defence intervened.

In the 90th minute Cowan’s whipped corner was headed on to the top of the net by Ajala.

The lively Gray produced some more fancy footwork inside the area in added time, however he steered his shot into the side netting.

The Crues bossed the final quarter, however Larne held out to secure the victory.

Larne U18s: Zak Robinson, Jude O’Hara, James Simpson, Logan Graham, Callum Cowan, Ross Ferguson, Harrison Knight, Diego McGann, Jack Hastings (captain), Jay Patterson, Bryce Gray.

Substitutes: (used) Ambrose Ajala, Sean Nugent; (unused) Daniel Collett (GK), Joel Given, Thomas McKinney, Ronan O’Hara, Jude Simms.

Crusaders U18s: Scott Marshal, Joshua Ness, Jonathan James, Rio Mullan, William Francey, Matthew Beattie, Ryan Donnelly, Karter Bond, Bernard Nsiah, Cole McEnlea, Bradley Maguire (captain).

Substitutes: (used) Eoin Conlon, Oscar McKenna, Aureli Karrabecaj; (unused) Matthew Boyle (GK), Conor Cunningham, Matthew McWilliams, Leon Barr.