There was a steep learning curve for Oxford United’s youngsters as they threw away a 2-0 lead against Luton Town to crash out of the EFL Youth Alliance Southern Area Cup on penalties.
Playing in front of more than 500 fans at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday, second half strikes from Dejon Noel-Williams and Albie Hopkins gave the young U’s the lead.
Noel-Williams grabbed the opener shortly after the break when the striker, one of five scholars to be offered a professional contract for next season, prodded the ball home under pressure.
United doubled their lead on the hour when Noel-Williams turned provider for Hopkins, whose angled shot was too strong for the Luton keeper.
But the Southern Area final, the Alliance Cup’s semi-final stage, turned on its head when Josh Neufville’s back post effort and a last-minute header from captain Joe Mead made it 2-2, halting Oxford’s progress to the final right at the death.
There was more heartbreak to follow for the U’s however as the Hatters won the subsequent penalty shootout after 16 spot kicks.
Skipper Matt Berry-Hargreaves had his penalty saved by Tiernan Parker in the visitors’ goal to set up a Luton Town v Wigan Athletic national final, the latter beating Hartlepool 5-0 in the Northern Area final.
Picture: Oxford United’s youngsters celebrate at the Kassam. Credit: Darrell Fisher