Crystal Palace Under-18s are taking on top tier Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Youth Cup at 19:00 this evening (Thursday, 16th) and the Eagles will be looking to record another emphatic victory after dispatching Reading in the previous round.
The game will be broadcast live by Palace TV for fans to watch free of charge.
In mid-December, Paddy McCarthy’s Palace were triumphant over the Royals in an end-to-end 4-2 clash at Madejski Stadium. Tonight, they will be looking for similar success against Wolves in the Fourth Round Proper in order to progress to the FA Youth Cup’s Fifth Round, where only 16 teams participate.
Should Palace make it that far, they will face either Chelsea or Bradford City. The Blues have won the Cup nine times, most recently in 2018. Following this stage is the quarter finals, semis and then the final, which will be played on 25th April.
Despite facing a club in the league above them, Palace can be confident against Wolves, as Reading are also an English Under-18 Premier League club. At this level of football, tiers are decided by the clubs’ Academy status, not the league of their first-teams. This means sides such as Reading, Middlesbrough and Stoke City play in the league above top flight teams like Palace and Watford.
The Eagles are currently fifth in the U18 Professional Development League (second tier), having won all three of their last matches in the competition.
In fact, Palace are playing in a rich vein of form– triumphing 5-2 over Queens Park Rangers last weekend and losing just one of their last six matches in all competitions.
It is exactly two months to the day that McCarthy’s south Londoners failed to score at least three goals in a game, too – highlighting the attacking talent Palace’s Academy team possess.
What is the FA Youth Cup?
Academy Director Gary Issott described the FA Youth Cup as "the biggest tournament in youth football."
It has been running since 1952 and sees 400 Under-18 teams from across the country participate. The tournament is dominated by professional Academies, however, and Palace entered it in the Third Round Proper – meaning they missed the four qualifiers and two proper rounds which preceded their arrival.
Famously, Palace’s supposed ‘Team of the Eighties’ won the FA Youth Cup in consecutive campaigns between 1976-78. The teams that lifted those trophies included Kenny Sansom, Vince Hilaire and Jerry Murphy, with Terry Fenwick netting a single goal in each final to clinch victory for the Eagles.
Back in ’78, Palace’s team was known for its flair and talent going forward, but perhaps their key and often overlooked strength came in defence. With a steadfast back four of Chris Sparks, Kevin Dare, Billy Gilbert and Peter Nicholas in front of goalkeeper David Fry, the south Londoners conceded just three goals from 10 games in the competition.
Now, however, Palace’s key attribute at Under-18 level comes from its attacking play. With a front four of TQ Addy, Brandon Aveiro, Brandon Pierrick and Rob Street, the Eagles are well stocked going forward. The likes of John-Kymani Gordon and Josh Ajayi act as talented alternatives, meaning McCarthy has a wealth of offensive skill to deploy.
Speaking with Palace TV recently, McCarthy described the team by saying: "When they’re on song and when they’re combining and when they’re moving the ball, they’re so difficult to play against for any opposition.
"I think their movement [v Reading] was excellent, their desire to press, to track runners in wide areas. These are the sort of things we’re trying to teach them on a daily basis."
Palace are buoyed in that they are likely to field several players who have been called-up to represent the Under-23s lately. The likes of Pierrick (who has now featured twice for Palace’s first-team and may miss out due to club’s game Manchester City on Saturday), Street, Malachi Boateng and Jude Russell have all spent time with the Development squad in matches this season, but are expected to be recalled to bolster the Under-18s in their crucial cup clash.
Often, the U18s name players from the Under-16s to provide replacements for those Academy prospects called-up by the Under-23s. Any of the Under-18s making a return to McCarthy's side on Thursday will therefore shore up his options significantly.
How to follow
Palace fans can access a free live broadcast of this game from 18:45 GMT this evening by signing up for or logging in to their free Palace TV account on desktop via eagles.cpfc.co.uk or on the club's official app. You can find out more here.