On Wednesday 9th May Phoenix Academy made the trip to Boreham Wood to play a Quarter Final tie in the National League u19s Champions of Champions Trophy. Phoenix qualified for this round with an excellent come-from-behind performance in the previous round against Nuneaton which I reported on here and this came after winning League G in impressive fashion.
Boreham Wood Blues won Group A without seeing defeat and then saw off the highly rated Dover side 5-0 on this same surface.
Boreham Wood Blues play on a 3G surface that neighbours the Stadium pitch of their National League Senior side. The Academy is the largest and most successful in the country at this level and employs 7 UEFA or FA registered coaches to train the 300 students that are currently on the books. Over 200 previous graduates from the scheme now play semi-professional football while some have also joined clubs such as West Ham, Watford, Peterborough, Notts County, Hull City, and Luton Town. In the last 4 years, 15 students represented England Schools and Colleges and they currently have a strong partnership with Reading FC.
This was clearly going to be a tough test for this young Phoenix side.
With the Sun shining down Phoenix attacked from the off and shocked their hosts by taking the lead after just 2 minutes. A long throw was flicked on at the near post and found John Walpole lurking at the back stick ready to nod it home 0-1. A cracking start to the game and it showed that the visitors had not just turned up to be another statistic.
For the first quarter of an hour it was all Phoenix. Fred tested the keeper from distance and Alfie Aldridge volleyed inches wide. Then on 22 minutes there was a big chance to make it 2-0. A goal kick was launched upfield, Fred knocked it on and Matt Neary raced on to it. With the keeper advancing Matt lobbed him but could only look on in horror as the ball bounced off the top of the bar and away.
With that opportunity gone Boreham Wood made advances forward and were almost level but for a superb Matt Poole block just yards from goal.
Unfortunately the hosts took their next chance. With the defence backing off they broke into the box and showing quick feet the attacker got his shot off, which rebounded off the inside of the post to the waiting Alex Morgan who tapped in. 1-1.
A reshuffle was needed soon after due to an injury at the heart of the away defence but the tide was still flowing in favour of Phoenix. On the half hour mark a cross from the right was met by Alfie Aldridge but his header was superbly saved by the diving keeper who tipped it over the bar.
With just minutes to go before the break and it looking like we would get there all square Boreham Wood took the lead. Again the defence backed off a little too much and allowed the forward a shot from range. Lewis Watson made the save but Sorba Thomas was on hand to despatch the rebound 2-1. A half-time lead for the hosts and one that they were fortunate to have.
From the kick-off in the Second Half Phoenix flew out of the traps again and within a minute Jimmy Martin had tested the keeper and soon after Alfie Aldridge turned his man inside out before having his shot blocked. At the other end Lewis Watson was alert when Boreham Wood took a quick free-kick and aimed a curler towards the top corner.
But this game was mainly being held in the Phoenix attacking third and just after the hour mark the pressure being applied payed off. Fred collected the ball outside the area and ghosted past two players before laying it off to Alfie who got the shot off which the keeper could only palm back into Fred who buried it. 2-2 and Game On.
Five minutes later and Phoenix had the lead. Alfie Aldridge was beating his man at will and after destroying him once more he unselfishly layed the ball off to the on-running Jimmy Martin, who promptly smashed the ball into the roof of the net. The goal of the game for me and one that had put the underdogs into the lead. 2-3
If they could stay composed for this last 20 minutes we could have a shock on the cards.
However it quickly went wrong. A series of poor defensive decisions within 5 minutes saw Boreham Wood hit the back of the net 3 times. A far post volley, a deflected effort and a quick move on the break all resulted in goals for the home side and now Phoenix found themsleves behind. 5-3
For the entirety of the final 10 minutes Phoenix Academy were on the attack and from one they managed to pull a goal back and set up a tense finish to the game. A long throw from Manny caused a goalmouth scramble that resulted in Matt Neary steering the ball into the bottom corner. 5-4
Attack after attack came, penalties were appealed for and shots were fired in but it was not to be. Boreham Wood had got the win but they were pushed all the way and would have left the field relieved to be advancing to the next round.
It would be all to easy to blame the pitch and the poor decisions by the home officials but those things happen in football and by almost overcoming that and pushing this level of oppostion so close it shows how far this bunch of lads has come as a team. It shows how far they can go too and while we watch next years intake try to emulate the path trodden here we will also see the following chapter of some of the young men that have set the standards at Phoenix Academy.
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Enjoy the winning goal from the Elimination game against Nuneaton.