Essex Under 18s were overcome at the penultimate stage of the FA County Youth Cup as two quickfire, first-half goals proved to be enough to see Norfolk reach their third successive final in front of a bumper crowd at the Football Development Centre in Norwich.
The visitors’ England Schools skipper Tom Duffy halved the deficit with an excellent header twelve minutes from time but, despite a spirited second-half showing, goals on 31 and 33 minutes from a Tom Baird penalty and Ethan Warne saw Norfolk, winners in 2018 and runners-up in 2019, go on to meet Sussex in April’s climax.
Essex started brightly and, inside 2 minutes, Jess Norey brought a good near-post save from Norfolk goalkeeper Reuben Lane following Callum Newson’s ball along the floor. From a Fletcher Dyson corner, Norfolk’s Aaron Rich then saw his poked shot saved by Essex’s Jack Allen. A deep free kick soon afterwards from Joe Bennett was also headed over the top by Rich for the home side.
The lead came a minute beyond the half hour mark. Baird fired into the bottom left-hand corner from the spot. It was 2-0 within two minutes as a low, left-wing centre was swept in by Warne at the near post. Essex looked for a way back into the game, spending the second half on the front foot.
An early opening arrived with Rashaad Ogun, whose effort was well blocked by home ‘keeper Lane at the near post. Allen then made a good save in the away goal, getting down to block from Lagshan Sivakumar before a good chance for Essex saw Ogun mis-hit just wide from close range.
Essex’s consolation saw Duffy head high into the roof of the net from Archie McFadden’s corner, but the visitors couldn’t find a late leveller despite pressing forward as a well-organised Norfolk side progressed to the final.
Essex: Jack Allen (Great Wakering Rovers), Archie McFadden (Concord Rangers), Jimi Reynolds (Aveley), Ben Search (Concord Rangers), Tom Duffy (Hornchurch), James Hegarty (Hornchurch), Rashaad Ogun (Romford) (Ben Steward [Bowers & Pitsea], 76), Jess Norey (Maldon & Tiptree), Callum Newson (Barking Abbey School), Teejay Chiororo (Bowers & Pitsea) (Liam Oliver [Witham Town], 84), Obi Molefi (Hornchurch) (Sonny Dutton [Hornchurch], 55). Unused Substitutes: Dan Hawkes (Barking), Charlie Page (Barking Abbey School).
Norfolk: Reuban Lane (Norwich United), Max Lane (Diss Town), Charlie Dickerson (Dereham Town), Ollie Whittaker (Diss Town), Aaron Rich (Thetford Town), Joe Bennett (Buxton), Lagshan Sivakumar (Dereham Town), Tom Baird (Mulbarton Wanderers), Ethan Warne (Dereham Town), Fletcher Dyson (Aylsham), Tom Pipe (Wroxham). Substitutes: Jorge Pascoal (Mattishall), Ollie Roberts (Great Yarmouth Town), Spencer Cawcutt (Harleston Town), Brady Philpott (Great Yarmouth Town), Evan Perry (Wroxham).
Referee: Callum Walchester.
Assistant Referees: Jordan Sandwell and Andrew Gray.
Fourth Official: Thomas Hancock.
Photos: Kate Dixon