Nottingham Forest’s Under 18s suffered a second defeat in six months losing 3-0 against Charlton Athletic in the play-off semi-final at The Valley on Saturday afternoon.The Reds were well in the game until second-half injury-time, trailing by only one goal before an over-committal led to the Addicks taking full advantage, notching two late goals to seal their place in the play-off final against Huddersfield Town or Brentford.
Jack Lester made one change from the side that thrashed Queens Park Rangers 5-0 in the last regular league action of the season, with Tim Erlandsson replacing Richard Dearle between the sticks.
The encounter got off to a relatively even start with both sides looking assured and confident in possession. The Addicks came into the game on the back of eight straight wins and they carved out the opening opportunity of the game.
A ball was teased in towards the far post where Ademola Lookman was waiting, but the forward blazed it over the bar with only the keeper to beat.
Gerry McDonagh had the ball in the net moments later following a looped Ryan Yates ball, but the referee ruled the goal out despite the protestations of Lester’s men. Samuel Bone had an effort for the hosts that was comfortably saved by Erlandsson.
Good attacking play from McDonagh helped set up Forest’s next chance, but Dimitar Mitov made a wonderful diving save to tip Elvis Otim’s effort just wide of his right-hand post.
As the first period went on Forest began to grow, with Yates and Adam Crookes getting their foot on it in midfield, spraying it wide for Otim and Luke Thomas.
But Charlton’s threat on the wing continued to pin The Reds back with Lookman posing a danger, although they struggled to create a clear-cut chance with blocks flying in from Jack Kelly and Alex Iacovitti from long range strikes.
Forest sprung forward on the attack with Kasheme Walton on the ball, who played a composed ball through for Otim who shot straight at Mitov who crouched down to collect at his knees.
The visitors were disciplined in defence forcing long shots and Bone took up the offer, but his 25-yard piledriver was easily stopped by Erlandsson. And Forest’s Swedish keeper had to be alert again with the save of the half, diving to his left at full stretch to deny Bone’s fizzing drive on the stroke of half-time.
Matty Cash, who scored for Jimmy Gilligan’s Under 21s last Tuesday night against Barnsley, replaced winger Thomas at the break. The former immediately made an impact roaming in from the left to cause trouble, getting Forest on the attack.
The Addicks frequently used the ball over the top for their rapid attackers to race on to, but Iacovitti and Frederik Nielsen remained undeterred, staying close to their marker and nullifying the attacks like so often this season.
But the hosts took the lead on 56 minutes. Joshua Umerah received the ball and turned with menace before launching an unstoppable thunderbolt into the top corner of Erlandsson’s net.
Soon after, Otim raced into the opposition box and came close to finding a Forest attacker, but it was desperately cleared away while Brandan Hanlan rifled an effort goal-bound at the other end that was well tipped over by Erlandsson.
Lester made his final two changes as Forest chased the match with Tom Gamblen and Kieran Hayes replacing Walton and Karo, with Yates reverting to right back from midfield and Gamblen moving to left-wing to allow Cash into the centre.
But the frustrated Reds found it difficult to get a foothold and allowed Umerah room once again, although this time he curled over from distance.
And as Forest chased their equaliser, Charlton took advantage in ruthless fashion as they were caught short at the back and Brandan Hanlan capitalised, finding room beyond the defence and powering home past Erlandsson.
Hayes went close for the visitors in response but again Forest understandably committed men forward and suffered as a consequence deep into added-time. Substitute George Lapslie raced clear and lashed it home to add insult to injury against a spirited Forest side who conceded three goals in a game for the first time this season.
Forest’s last loss came in the FA Youth Cup against Tottenham Hotspur, but aside from that their league run stretched to a marvellous 15 games, where they showed excellent grit character throughout and only just lost out on the league title.
The season isn’t over for many of the Under 18s though as they are set to be involved in Gilligan’s Under 21s squad for their play-off campaign. Details will be announced in due course.
Forest: Erlandsson, Karo (Gamblen 73’), Nielsen, Iacovitti, Kelly, Otim, Yates, Crookes, Thomas (Cash 45’), McDonagh, Walton (Hayes 73’)