Bristol City Under-18s 2-0 West Ham United Under-18s
Tony Carr's table-topping side saw their run of six wins from seven unbeaten matches come to an end in disappointing fashion on Friday afternoon.
United went down to a goal in each half but the situation was complicated by the sending off just before half-time of Josh Payne, while Carr also was without the ill Oliver Lee and in-form striker Freddie Sears. The latter has scored 22 goals in 18 games for the Academy this campaign but is on first-team duty this weekend and therefore did not make the long trip down the M4. Although West Ham United remain on top of Group A of the Premier Academy League, the door has been opened to Fulham and Arsenal.
In a scrappy first half, played on a difficult pitch, City were able to take the lead as the interval approached following a defensive mix-up involving Ryan O'Neill, Daniel Kearns and Tony Brookes. That allowed a cross into the box which was converted by the home side. To make matters worse, Payne got his marching orders soon afterwards following a strong challenge.
Despite that misfortune, West Ham United were a different proposition in the second half and should really have levelled matters. Matthew Fry had two good chances to score as did England Under-19 international Junior Stanislas, with one of them seeing him through with just the goalkeeper to beat only to come off second best. The visitors were committing everything forward and were undone by a close-range header that gave City a two-goal advantage. The closing stages saw Carr introduce schoolboy winger Christian Montano, who can play up front as well, while another youngster Conor Okus also had an extended run.
The defeat was a surprising one, given that Carr's side had kept a clean sheet in four of their last five fixtures but there was little that Adam Street in goal could do about either strike. "It was a bad day all round," said Carr. "It was the first defeat for a long time but inevitably good runs come to an end. We had to play the game without a recognised striker - we had other players unavailable and Freddie Sears is with the first-team squad, although that is fantastic for the Academy."
The match was the first of four fixtures Group A leaders United will play against Group B sides to close out the current campaign. Before Saturday's matches, Carr's team are three points clear of Fulham at the top of Group A although have now played two games more. The biggest threat to their title ambitions are Arsenal, however, who are five points adrift but have four games in hand on their east London rivals. After the trip to Bristol, West Ham United welcome Reading (29 March), go to Leicester City (5 April) and play host to Birmingham City (12 April).
Arsenal and Fulham are also up against Group B opposition on Saturday when they go to Reading and welcome Aston Villa respectively. In Group B, Reading fourth and Aston Villa are top. There are four groups in total in the Premier Academy League with the winners all progressing to semi-finals next month before the national final on 3 May.
West Ham United: Street, O'Neill (Okus 60), Brookes, N'Gala, Miller, Harvey (Montano 75), Kearns (Fry 46), Payne, Spence, Stanislas, Edgar