Connor Whitley is a 22-year-old politics and international relations graduate from the University of Nottingham. He recently started to explore film photography and as a lifelong football fan, the next logical step was to merge these two passions. It led to his creation of @footballon35 which has a strong Instagram presence and a new blog for the 2018-19 season – footballon35.wordpress.com. He is a member of The FA Young Reporters' Club.
This is the second consecutive season that Long Eaton United have reached the first round proper of the FA Youth Cup and many from last season’s squad who lost to Scunthorpe United remain part of the team.
But once again it was not meant to be for Long Eaton, who suffered a 1-2 defeat to MK Dons.
Nick Dargan, one of three directors at the club, believes that last year nerves got the better of them.
- The FA Youth Cup
- First Round Proper
- Thursday 1 November 2018
- Grange Park, Long Eaton United FC
Since then, many of that side have played for the senior team in the ninth tier of English football. It is this continuity that is at the heart of what Long Eaton are trying to do.
“The team tonight progressed through the youth system,” explained Dargan.
“A lot of the lads here played at U10s, U11s for us…we want people progressing who have an association with the football club.
“We want players who know the club and play a part other than football like fundraising.”
Dargan believes this translates on the pitch, with players playing as a team unlike in professional academies where individuals are competing for a first-team place.
The opening exchanges demonstrated Dargan’s point. Long Eaton began at an impressive intensity and didn’t let MK Dons settle at all. Each pass had meaning with nobody from either side having any time on the ball to relax.
It wasn’t until half time that the deadlock was broken. A powerful header from a Long Eaton corner was well-saved only for it to bounce off a Dons defender and into the net.
In the second half, MK Dons started strongly. Edu Rubio, the Dons’ U18s manager, said after the game he’d stressed at the break that his side needed to exploit the wide areas to create gaps in the middle.
The majority of MK Dons’ play came down the left-hand side and it was only four minutes into the second half when they equalised through a penalty. Dylan Asonganyi was brought down just inside the area and he calmly converted the spot kick low to the keeper’s left.
The goal settled the Dons’ nerves that likely came from being clear favourites on paper. It did the opposite for Long Eaton, whose pressing game fell away. MK Dons were the dominant side but didn’t seem desperate to grab the decider.
“We dominated possession but that doesn’t mean you dominate the game, because we weren’t so penetrative… we need to learn to be more clinical in the final third,” said Rubio after the game.
They did get their goal in stoppage time which on balance was deserved but made it no less cruel for Long Eaton and their strong home support.
It was substitute Tom Rowley who converted, with a first-time volley at the back post after meeting a floating cross from the left.
And the Dons’ boss felt that the pressure of the FA Youth Cup tie was a perfect learning experience for his team.
“The difference between a good player and a professional player is somebody who knows how to deal with pressure,” he added.
It is MK Dons who get to experience this pressure again in the next round but Thursday night’s tie was a learning experience for both sides and it would be no surprise to see Long Eaton United back in the first round proper next season.