U18s suffer semi-final defeat

West Ham United were knocked out of the Barclays Premier League Play-Offs after a 2-1 defeat by Manchester City at Platt Lane on Saturday.

West Ham led for 73 minutes after Jordan Brown's early opener, only for the Northern Division winners to snatch victory and a place in the final with two goals in the final ten minutes.

The Hammers went ahead after just seven minutes when Josh Cullen chased down the City back line to open up a chance for Brown to slide the ball into an empty net.

City captain Ashley Smith-Brown popped up with ten minutes remaining to pull the hosts level, before Kean Byran converted an 88th minute penalty after a handball from Nathan Mavila.

U18s boss Steve Potts took an almost full-strength team up to Manchester for this vital fixture, although he was without England U17 goalkeeper Sam Howes, who. Is away with England at the UEFA European U17 Championship finals in Malta.

The hosts started well and had the first mentionable opportunity of the game just four minutes in when a free-kick from City left-back Jose Tasende found Jorge Intima at the back post, who headed back across the face for Tosin Adarabioyo to slice wide of the goal.

West Ham reacted well and went ahead two minutes later when tireless midfielder Cullen worked hard to hunt down the Manchester City defence, giving Brown the opportunity to roll the ball into the net.

The Hammers could have had a chance to double their lead minutes later when Brown was bundled over in the penalty box, but the referee decided against pointing to the spot.

Manchester City came back strongly in the first half and had several efforts to grab an equaliser, although the closest they came to scoring was when Smith-Brown played in Thierry Ambrose, who hit the far post.

Just before half-time the visitors had a golden opportunity to push further ahead when Jamie Harney saw his header from a corner cleared off the line by the face of a City defender.

Into the second half and the Hammers came out looking for the important second goal, with Kieran Bywater curling an effort just round the far post after being set up by Djair Parfitt-Williams.

From there, City grew in confidence and appeared to get stronger, with talented striker Brandon Barker having two opportunities from the edge of the Hammers penalty area. However, the visitors blocked both efforts.

If the Hammers were going to hold on, it was going to take every piece of energy they had. Centre-back Harney was showing the Hammers' desire to win by taking several shots to the chest and other painful areas.

But City continued to press for the equaliser and were finally rewarded when the Hammers half cleared their lines, allowing Smith-Brown to run at the defence and fire a shot that was deflected into the back of the net.

The goal clearly deflated the Hammers, who had worked so hard to maintain their advantage. With just two minutes remaining, the situation got even worse when the referee pointed to the penalty spot after an apparent handball by Mavila.

The decision was strongly disputed by the West Ham players and staff, but that did not stop City substitute Bryan slotting the ball into the corner of the Hammers net from 12 yards.

The result brought the curtain down on West Ham's 2013/14 campaign, with Manchester City preparing to face either Everton or Tottenham Hotspur in the final.

Defender Harney summed up the players' emotions after the game, but insisted that the side have had a brilliant season that they should be proud of.

"It's a very difficult result to take, but I thought the lads defended superbly throughout the game," admitted Harney. "In the last ten minutes, we were up against it and it seems that a couple of penalty decisions have decided it.

"All we can do it congratulate Manchester City because you can't take away the fact that they are a good team that played well, but we deserved to get something out the game.

"For the team, it's been a good season, except for the Youth Cup game [which saw West Ham lose at Accrington Stanley in the third round]. We've played well this season against the big teams and I think that showed against Man City because we should've got a result and given ourselves a chance to reach the final."

U18s: Nemrava, Knoyle, Burke, Harney, Mavila, Nasha (Amoo), Makasi, Cullen, Bywater, J.Brown, Parfitt-Williams (Gordon)
Subs not used: T.Brown, Pike, Onariase