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James Crawley

James Crawley writes

Posted Wednesday, February 14th 2018

Edwards fires City into cup knockouts

An Opi Edwards free kick secures City’s Under 23s spot in the Last 16 of the Premier League Cup.

The first-half goal proved enough to beat Liverpool 1-0 at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night. City can look ahead to the first of the knockout rounds, with a group game against Charlton Athletic to spare.

The occasion was a poignant one for midfielder Gary O’Neil, as he captained the young side in his first competitive appearance for six months after recovering from a knee injury.

The game itself was quite even, a far cry from the 7-0 thumping Liverpool dished out in the reverse fixture back in November.

AS IT UNFOLDED

This time, in front a few hundred-strong BS3 crowd, it would be a different story and it was City who had the first chance of the game; Rory Holden forcing Liverpool keeper Caoimhin Kelleher into an early save.

At the other end, Liverpool’s Tom Clayton found himself unable to make clear contact as he tried to latch on to a free kick which was whipped across the face of goal.

But it was Edwards, who earlier featured against Watford in the FA Cup, whose deflected set piece opened the scoring.

Holden had shown great trickery to launch a Robins attack, before he picked out George Nurse with a delightful cross-field pinpoint pass. The number 11 was blocked off to the left of the middle of the penalty area and up stepped Edwards to strike the resulting free kick. The ball took a flick off the Liverpool wall, wrong-footing the keeper as it headed towards the opposite right corner.

O’Neil then tried his luck with efforts from outside the box, but the midfielder was off target with both, as he sought the perfect return.

HALF TIME

Nurse went close with City's first chance of the second half as Kelleher produced the save to deny the young striker, before O’Neil was substituted around the hour mark to a well-deserved, warm round of applause from the fans.

City would hold out for the all-important cup win but they survived a scare when Toni Gomes sent a header inches over Jojo Wollacott’s crossbar, after he connected with a Rafael Camacho cross from the right-wing.

The win sends City U23s top of Group G on 10 points, who face Charlton Athletic’s development squad on February 23rd (7pm kick-off).

DELIGHTED WITH THE RESULT - ALEX BALL

Speaking about the result, U23s assistant coach Alex Ball said: “It’s very good. I knew we were doing well out there but we just wanted a better score than the last time we played Liverpool!

"We played well, had to defend for long periods but our compactness and shape was solid.

"Liverpool’s movement made it difficult for us at times but we spoke about that as a team before the game and at half time, so we are delighted to have come through with the win.

“This win was great for the club and for this group of players. This is the Premier League Cup where we are competing against teams from the top division. It shows we’re getting set up for better things.

O'NEIL'S RETURN

“Gary was very good. He helped the younger players with his assuring and ability to recognise moments when he needed to show for the ball, to slow things things down or to quicken the tempo. His experience helped a lot.

“It also helps his recovery and build up his match fitness, to get him ready for a first-team return.”