Albion’s U18s exited the FA Youth Cup in their opening game following a narrow defeat to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on Tuesday night.
Detlef Esapa Osong’s early second-half strike was enough to see the hosts through, but Leigh Downing’s men came agonisingly close to two goals on the night.
Akeel Higgins had both of the attempts, striking the inside of the post on each occasion, but the young Baggies couldn’t find a way past the Forest defence, as they departed the tournament.
It was a cagey opening to proceedings, with neither side willing to give anything away as they tried to find their feet early on.
Tobias Hurlock was a key figure for Albion during the initial exchanges, and it was he who saw two good chances come and go. Firstly, firing wayward following good build-up play down the right, before Layton Love and Harry Whitwell forged an even better opportunity.
The big No.9 nodded a long ball onto the England youth international, who chested the ball down before feeding to Hurlock in space on the right side of the box, but the attacker couldn’t keep his shot down as he fired over.
Still, a better chance came around moments later, and while Jack Nadin posed a threat for the hosts during the first half, it was Downing’s men who should’ve been in front at the interval.
Again, more penetrating play down the right eventually saw the ball fall to Higgins inside the area, and although his shot looked destined for the bottom corner, a deflection carried the forward’s effort onto the inside of the post, as the game remained goalless at half-time.
After a quiet opening from Forest, they came alive during the second half to find the opener. A long, hopeful ball forward wasn’t defended well, leaving powerful target man Osong free to smash past Ronnie Hollingshead and into the roof of the net.
It remained 1-0 until full-time and although Osong headed a golden chance wide and clipped the top of the bar, Downing’s boys were the ones doing all the pressing and should’ve been level, if not in front with the chances they carved out.
Whitwell weaved his way into the area before colliding to ground after contact from several defenders, but the referee waved away the appeals. Fenton Heard did brilliantly to turn his man on halfway before racing to the edge of the box. Sadly, his effort was simple enough for Aaron Bott in the Forest goal to hold.
But the best chance to restore parity came from Higgins as the game entered the end of regular time. After evading one challenge and hanging onto the ball following another attempted tackle, Akeel opened up to shoot.
But like in the first half, his shot came off the inside of the post before being gathered by Bott to confirm defeat for Downing’s young stars.
Despite feeling disappointed at the final whistle, the U18s will have another opportunity to further their hopes of progressing in a competition when they play in the quarter-finals of the Premier League Cup during the New Year.
Albion: Hollingshead; Williams, N.Phillips, Olofinjana (Nelson), Humphries; Whitwell, M.Richards, Heard; Hurlock (Mfuamba), Love (Walker), Higgins.
Substitutes: Cisse, Sumnall, Oliver, Kirton.