Youngsters Exit PL Cup

Nathan Collins

STOKE CITY U23s were knocked out of the Premier League Cup after a 4-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Clayton Wood, writes Conor Shaw.

After reaching the knockout stages of the competition for the first time, the Potters ultimately came unstuck against Damien Johnson’s side who now advance to the Quarter-Finals.

The Lancashire outfit took the lead through Hayden Carter before City responded when Nathan Collins headed home – but a double from Joseph Rankin-Costello either side of Jack Vale’s strike secured a place in the next round for Rovers.

The loss in North Staffordshire means the U23s’ superb two-month unbeaten run in all competitions, which included six straight victories and a draw, has come to an end.

Blackburn started the better of the two sides in the opening stages and nearly stamped their authority on the encounter just two minutes into the match. Daniel Butterworth skipped through the Potters defence and ‘keeper Daniel Gyollai pulled off a smart stop to prevent the visitors racing into an early lead.

Spurred on by their early opportunities in front of goal, Rovers duly found the back of the net. Johnson’s side were in the ascendancy and direct from a corner, Rankin-Costello forced Gyollai into a superb reaction save off the goal line. Despite City’s best efforts to clear the ball away from danger, Carter pounced and rifled his strike into the roof of the net – completely out of any players’ reach.

City didn’t rest on their laurels and remained on the front foot in the build up to their equaliser. On his return to the U23s line up, Josh Tymon whipped an inch perfect cross into the area and picked out skipper Collins. The Ireland youth international rose the highest and powered his bullet header beyond a despairing Charlie Albinson in the Rovers net.

The visitors seemed to come flying out of the blocks and regained the lead five minutes into the second half. Following some impressive, fast-flowing build-up play, full-back Rankin-Costello weaved his way inside the area and placed his tame strike beneath Gyollai.

Moments later, and Rovers nearly extended their advantage. Harrison Chapman was causing several problems for the Potters and was looking lively since the interval. The former Middlesbrough man cut onto his favoured left-foot and curled his effort just wide of the far corner. Lewis Thompson then almost added to their tally but Gyollai was equal to his strike.

Kevin Russell’s side worked hard in their quest to find an equaliser and weren’t short of attempts themselves. Jake Dunwoody drove forwards and tried his luck from distance, but the former Manchester City man’s strike sailed just over the crossbar.

Rovers were showcasing their class and added a third courtesy of some brilliant passing football. Captain Charley Doyle broke through from his own half towards the edge of the area and slipped the ball through for Vale who rolled his effort past Gyollai to send the visitors into a comfortable lead.

The Potters couldn’t be faulted for their efforts as they tried to claw back a goal in the dying embers of the match. Ollie Shenton whipped in a venomous free-kick from the right flank, which was split by keeper Albinson. Dunwoody drilled the rebound and it was easily cleared off the line by Rankin-Costello.

That man Rankin-Costello was to have one more say on the final outcome as he netted the away side’s fourth of the night in the final minute. The attacker saw his initial far-post header saved by Gyollai before he fired home the follow-up.

Stoke City: Gyollai, Wara, Collins, McJannet, Tymon (Niakate 65), Dunwoody, Shenton, Jarvis, Pemberton, Toure (Balde 68 (Twyford 85)). Unused: Kanuric, Varian.