Ricky Duncan proud of his team after heartbreaking defeat to Middlesbrough in the FA Youth Cup
Southend United’s Academy Manager Ricky Duncan described Friday night’s dramatic 4-3 defeat to Middlesbrough at Roots Hall as “one of those classic FA Youth Cup games”.
The Third Round tie was Duncan’s 24th during a decade in charge of the Shrimpers but, despite some phenomenal results in that time, few have matched this encounter for entertainment, excitement and tension. Blues trailed early on to Harry Chapman’s first-half brace, but Jordan Williams fortuitously netted his first U18s goal before Freddie Gard equalised ahead of the interval.
An outstanding second half display saw Blues dominate their illustrious opponents for long periods, and they seemed destined to claim a famous victory when Nico Cotton slammed home a superb strike in the final minute of the regulation ninety. However, substitute Jonathan Helm and forward Lee Hetherington turned the tie around in the fifth and seventh minutes of stoppage time respectively to give Boro the win.
“It was one of those classic FA Youth Cup games,” said Duncan straight after the final whistle. “We were 2-0 down, and maybe deservedly so at the time because we weren’t playing our best on the ball. We made mistakes and they capitalised on those, but to get ourselves back in the game at 2-2 was a fantastic achievement.
“In the second half I thought we dominated, if I’m honest. We had all the play in their half and I think they’d gone. We were well on top and I thought we deserved to go 3-2 up with four minutes to go. The lads thought we’d won it, and we tried to tell them to get their heads back on it, but it’s hard. They took their eye off the ball.
“The ball was sent into the box, which we normally deal with every week, and it goes in for 3-3 and their heads dropped. They didn’t press the ball straight away and we were thinking of extra time when they made it 4-3. The learning curve is that we had four minutes to play and we didn’t see it out. I feel sorry for the boys. Anyone that was here tonight will know they put an absolute shift in for the club and for themselves.
“They’ll be disappointed, and rightly so, but, hopefully, if they end up playing in our first-team and there’s a minute to go and it’s one of these situations again, they’ll think back to tonight and make sure it doesn’t happen again. I think Middlesbrough were very lucky to get away with a win tonight; I don’t normally say that, but I thought they were.”
Duncan was incredibly proud of his own team as their run in the competition came to an end, and felt that the Boro’s grounding as Category One Academy ultimately proved to be the difference: “The kids gave everything but, when you have that little bit of extra quality, in the last minute that’s what it comes down to.
“That’s when it counted, in those last two minutes when they stuck those goals in. If you were there, you’ll believe it, but I don’t think anyone at the football club can criticise these lads for what they’ve done tonight.
“They’re a good side in their league and, although I said before the game that we’d show no fear, we did. The boys did come out and show fear, but once they got over that and Jordan got that goal, there was only one team looking like they were going to win it.
“The three games in the competition have been really good games and I think that anyone that has come to watch them will have enjoyed them. The greatest thing about The FA Youth Cup is the chance to come and play in the stadium and get a crowd.
“It’s nice for people to have turned out for us, and I’d love to see a full stadium every time. I think that would be fantastic. These games bring something special, they’re exciting, there are mistakes, but there’s also some great football. The boys will learn from this.”
Duncan concluded by predicting a bright future for his charges, and challenging them to continue putting in strong league performances in the second half of the season: “We’ve got a lot of boys in there that have got a real future; they won’t believe that right now and they’ll be disappointed for weeks because it’s not a nice way to lose, but we’ve got to look at ourselves. It was our own fault because we should have defended better.
“You’ve just got to live with it. I’m not going to knock them; they’ve worked incredibly hard for the football club and themselves and I’m proud of them. I’m not proud of the way we lost the game, but I’m proud of the way they went out and conducted themselves.
“I’ve asked them why they haven’t put the same performances in the league, because at times in the league we could’ve been better, even though we’ve had a great run and we’ve become consistent now. If they’d shown that level of commitment throughout the season, we’d be challenging with Barnet at the top and we should be. Now they’ve got to prove that.
“We’ve got a friendly against Chelsea coming up this week, which will be another chance for the boys to test themselves, then we’ve got our last league game of the year against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday where we need put points on the board. I’m pleased about the cup run; it’s been a good cup run. It’s a shame it ended the way it did, but hopefully they will learn from this and the experience will help them in the future.”