By Paul Dantanus
Jake Forster-Caskey’s second half free-kick gave the Albion youngsters a memorable first win at the American Express Community Stadium at the expense of a strong Aston Villa side in the FA Youth Cup Third Round proper.
Brighton have already welcomed the likes of Liverpool and Sunderland to the Amex Stadium during its short life span, but now it was the youth team’s turn to face Premier League opposition in the Cup.
Aston Villa reached the FA Youth Cup Final last year, and as three-time winners, the Midlands side proved the perfect opponents for Brighton’s ambitious teenagers to test themselves in front of the 1,868 crowd.
But unlike the frantic style of football seen in the senior FA competition, both sides began the first half cautiously.
Goalkeepers Oliver Wray and Calum Barrett were kept quiet while the players tried to keep possession and build from the back, but it was Villa who made the first notable attack.
Graham Burke fired a shot over Wray’s bar on 20 minutes, during a period when the away side showed their Premier League pedigree with slick passing and a disciplined back line led by captain Janoi Donacien.
Burke posed the biggest threat for the Seagulls defence, coming closest before the interval with a drilled left-footed effort that narrowly missed the far post.
With the majority of possession in Albion’s half, the defence worked hard to impress first-team manager Gus Poyet, who gave the green light for last night’s Amex tie and was watching from the stands.
Gareth Barry was also sat in the home crowd to watch with his nephew and both of his former clubs in action. Bradley Barry, sharing his uncle’s favoured number 6 shirt, combined in Albion’s midfield with Forster-Caskey, Elliott Levy and Chris Cumming-Bart.
Wingers Levy and Cumming-Bart stretched the Villa defence and made dangerous runs, but their crosses seemed to elude lone striker Shamir Goodwin.
But Jake Forster-Caskey, the stepson of former Albion striker Nicky Forster, only needed one moment to justify his call-up to the England under-18 squad.
His curling 20-yard effort hit the underside of the crossbar before bouncing over the Villa goal-line, making it only the second free-kick scored for Brighton at the Amex after Ryan Harley’s strike against Peterborough in the Championship.
Villa youth boss Tony McAndrew soon made all three substitutions in an attempt to rescue the tie, and were it not for the lineman’s flag, Bradley Lewis would have equalised in the 88th minute and taken the game to extra-time.
Brighton’s Goodwin also had a goal ruled out for offside, but ultimately the Seagulls held out and the players were understandably ecstatic at the final whistle.
Albion’s head of youth and ex-first team coach, Martin Hinshelwood, was equally happy after the game.
He said: “I am really pleased for the boys because they have worked really hard over the last week or so, looking at how Villa played. Our work rate was phenomenal, and for the last ten minutes the defending was excellent.”
Speaking about current boss Poyet, he said: “Gus was very pleased tonight because he’s the manager of this football club and he’s seen the boys beat a Premier League football club with very good pedigree. He was very pleased and it was good to see the pros here supporting them too.
“The boys are very lucky because they have got a manager who wants to pass the ball. It’s great that the man at the top wants to play like that and I’m sure that if he sees the boys doing it, he’ll give them an opportunity.”
Brighton could now meet any of the 14 Premier League clubs left in the competition.
The draw for the FA Youth Cup Fourth Round takes place this Friday (December 16th), and all ties will be played before Saturday 21st January 2012.
Brighton: Wray, MacFarlane, Cooper, Vickers, Hunt, Cumming-Bart, Barry, Forster-Caskey, Tuck (Peake 81), Goodwin, Levy. Subs not used: Colquhoun (GK), Rea, Cousins, Gray.
Goals: Forster-Caskey 57.
Aston Villa: Barrett, Bateman (Serrano 84), Donacien, Lewis, Webb, Graham, Melvin (Darking 78), Ward (Drennan 70), Grealish, Robinson, Burke. Subs not used: Watkins (GK), Bryan.
Referee: Andrew Laver.
Assistant Referees: Mark Lucie & Steve Hawkes
Fourth Official: Geoff Skillen
Yellow Cards: Forster-Caskey (Brighton); Ward, Graham, Burke (Aston Villa).