Charlton U18s Manager Anthony Hayes says he is immensely proud of his players after the young Addicks defeated Birmingham City 3-2 at The Valley on Saturday afternoon to secure their place in the Professional Development League 2 play-off final.
The Addicks held a two-goal cushion with just five minutes remaining courtesy of Aaron Henry and Mason Burstow before being stunned by a quickfire Alfie Wakefield brace for the visitors, only for Burstow to strike a last-gasp winner on 93 minutes to book a showdown with Wigan Athletic in next weekend’s showpiece final.
“Immensely proud,” admits Hayes. “That’s probably the overriding emotion at the minute: immensely proud of the players. We had to find a way. Credit to Birmingham because we knew they’d pass the ball really well. They’re probably the most impressive team that we’ve played against.
“So we’ve had to adapt, we’ve had to adjust, we’ve had to find a way to stay in the game. Then to have the adversity thrown at you right at the death. I didn’t actually see that response coming so I’ve got to give the players huge credit.
“My immediate reaction, I turned to Steve [Avory] and I just said: ‘we have to get to extra time.’ There was three minutes left and I think at that stage physically and emotionally we were on the ropes. But then young players surprise you. For the last goal, Ryan [Viggars] does ever so well to compete, Jason [Adigun] shows some real quality and assertiveness and Mason [Burstow] shows absolute ice in his veins to go around the keeper and convert.”
The Irishman was overjoyed with the performance of his entire squad, though reserved particular praise for matchwinner Burstow and goalkeeper James Beadle, who made some outstanding saves.
“Mason came in from Maidstone and had a real difficult probably first six months of his scholarship but the development in that boy, and that’s credit to the kid because he accepts feedback, he’s extremely hardworking, he’s a good learner and he’s obviously got a lot of ability and potential. You’ve seen two very good finishes from him today, both with his left. Really pleased for him that he’s expressed his talent to the viewing spectators which is also nice.
“I think James actually said this in his interview yesterday that we do rely on James to make big saves. He did make three or four excellent saves. He’s a great last line of defence with himself, Deji [Elerewe] and Naz [Bakrin]. I think as a trio today they gave us the best platform to go and try and give us a foothold in the game.”
Hayes was extremely thankful for the opportunity to play at The Valley in what was a momentous occasion for all involved, before looking ahead to the showpiece against the Latics, with the location of the final to be announced in due course.
“A phenomenal experience. It’s a wonderful setting to play your football. I think hopefully the game, for those that were both in attendance and watched it online, will feel immensely proud. Like I said, I feel immensely proud of the group of players.
“Memories have been created there for everyone, they’ll never forget this experience. It’s a wonderful experience for them and when you work in youth development that’s our job. We have to offer them experiences like this.
“We played Wigan recently. Again, that was a game that ebbed and flowed. We actually went down to 10 men but found a way to win in the last minute. They’re a good side, they’ve got some good individuals. They’ll play a similar style to Birmingham and they’ll try and pass it. But I think, immediately, it’s just a case of enjoy this moment. We’ll get the players assessed, fit and ready to go again for Monday.”