Norwich City U21 3-2 SAFC U21
SAFC Under-21s opened their Premier League 2 campaign with a narrow 3-2 defeat by Norwich City at the Lotus Training Centre, as a team predominantly made up of scholars took a two-goal lead in Norfolk.
With most Under-21 players currently on tour in Canada, Individual Youth Performance Coach Alex Ackerley led a squad to the league opener consisting of just four recognised professionals, alongside 11 scholars and 15-year-old Chris Rigg.
Caden Kelly opened the scoring after 20 minutes with a wonderfully whipped strike set up by Michael Spellman, who then laid on a second just two minutes later for Joe Ryder to finish.
Tom Dickson-Peters looped in a well-hit strike to halve the deficit for Norwich, before equalising with seven minutes remaining with a close-range finish.
Abu Kamara lashed in the winner from an angle on 86 minutes, as a spirited performance ended on a harsh note to take for the young Lads.
Rigg was among a starting XI ahead of the game with an average age of just 17, partnering Kelly in an advanced midfield with captain Harrison Sohna sitting deep. Harrison Bond started in goal and made a string of saves on the day, with Marshall Burke and Jenson Jones either side at full-back.
Jayden Sekete and Henry Fieldson began as the centre-half partnership. Ethan Moore and Spellman started on either flank, with Ryder spearheading the attack.
The first 20 minutes saw the Lads grow into the game after the Canaries initially flexed their power early on, Kamara hitting the side netting. But soon, the tide turned and after Kelly cut inside to test Archie Mair once, the second bite of the cherry proved successful.
Spellman burst forward and picked out the forward, who was allowed too much space and whipped an excellent shot past the goalkeeper.
And without even a breath, it was two. Spellman was released down the left-hand side and picked out the clever arrival of Ryder, who swept in his first Under-21 goal to double the lead.
Norwich fought back and gathered reward with 10 minutes left of the first half, Dickson-Peters lifting a shot over Bond into the far corner.
Chances at both ends came and went as a determined Lads side pressed with intent throughout the second half, but the resistance was broken with seven minutes remaining as the Norwich front man netted his second as he met Sean Stewart’s pulled-back pass.
And Kamara’s strong burst down the right was rewarded with a decisive goal moments later as he fired in from an angle.
A learning curve for the youngsters and a beneficial experience, as they leave Norfolk gutted but proud.
SAFC U21: Bond; Burke, Sekete (Beattie 33’, Obolo 57’), Fieldson, J. Jones; Sohna ©; Moore, Rigg, Kelly, Spellman; Ryder (Cain 46’).
Subs not used: Cameron, Mitchell.