Ryan Yates scored twice as Nottingham Forest’s table-topping Under 18s rounded the season off in style with a thumping 5-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Jack Lester’s side will have to wait an extra week to find out if they’re winners of Professional Development League Two North with second-placed Huddersfield Town needing a win against Crewe Alexandra.
The Reds will now face a play-off semi-final in the coming weeks against one of the top-two finishers in the South division, and they will certainly head into them in incredible form, unbeaten in 16 matches stretching all the way back to November 1.
Lester made three changes to the line-up that eased past Swansea City with a 2-0 win a fortnight ago with Jack Kelly, Adam Crookes and Gerry McDonagh coming into the team at The Nigel Doughty Academy replacing Jermaine Worthington, Dylan Burns and Kieran Hayes.
The Hoops had scored two or more goals in six of their last seven games but they were left truly stunned by the attacking force of the hosts in this one. Set-piece specialist Kelly served up a treat for Alex Iacovitti who headed onto the crossbar before Andreas Karo glanced wide from the same deliverer as Forest set the tone for the entirety of the 90 minutes.
McDonagh showed great awareness to turn and fire a shot away that was well saved by Marvin Brzozowski and Luke Thomas nearly got his 11th of the campaign but his effort went well wide of the left-hand post.
Yates has appeared more times than anyone else for the Under 18s at right back and central midfield and in the latter position, he grabbed Forest’s first goal of the afternoon.
The ever-present engine ran through the heart of the QPR midfield and unleashed a fierce drive into the bottom corner of the net. And only three minutes later, the hosts doubled their lead.
Kelly sent in a beautiful corner once again and the predatory Kasheme Walton was on hand to convert from close range to overtake Britt Assombalonga as the club’s top scorer with his 16th of the season.
Shortly afterwards, the ruthless Reds pushed their dazed opponents back onto the ropes and grabbed another goal. McDonagh found himself in space and struck excellently from distance for his third goal in as many matches at Under 18 level.
Forest carried on jabbing and Yates had another effort from range that was saved, but he eventually did get the fourth goal in the space of 15 first-half minutes to take the encounter away from the West London outfit.
The reliable first-year scholar drove through midfield and arrowed a shot perfectly into the bottom corner. In a rare attacking foray the visitors responded with an audacious shot but Richard Dearle showed fine concentration to scurry back and tip over the bar.
Kelly produced another magnificent set-piece, this time for Frederik Nielsen who struggled to get clean contact to head wide.
Tom Gamblen replaced Adam Crookes at the interval for the midfielder’s first appearance since the FA Youth Cup quarter-final tie against Tottenham Hotspur, and Forest continued in the same vein.
Thomas came close to adding a fifth but he saw his effort smartly stopped while Brandon Adams tested Dearle following a counter-attack but the keeper was alert, diving to his right to palm away.
Lester freshened things up with Liam Adams and Burns coming on for Iacovitti and Thomas. Despite that, the hosts were sturdy in search of their sixth clean sheet in seven contests, with confidence flowing throughout the squad.
Coming in from the left-wing, Adams volleyed wide after a drifted cross from the right before desperate last-ditch blocking rescued QPR after Elvis Otim blasted towards goal after a good lay-off from Walton. Kelly’s ferocious cross was met with a powerful header from McDonagh, but Brzozowski instinctively tipped over.
But Forest couldn’t be simmered or denied for much longer and workmanlike winger Otim sealed a glorious afternoon in the sunshine with a fifth goal. He worked well inside the box and ambitiously struck home via the underside of the bar to leave the visitors bruised and comfortably brushed aside.
The Reds’ Under 16s ensured a brilliant double for the academy over QPR at The Nigel Doughty Academy with a 3-0 victory thanks to goals from Ethan Stewart, Joe Re and Anthony Wright.
The Under 18s await the results of next week’s games which will determine their final position and their opposition in the play-offs. Details will be announced in due course.
Forest: Dearle, Karo, Nielsen, Iacovitti (Burns 61’), Kelly, Otim, Crookes (Gamblen 45’), Yates, Thomas (Adams 61’), Walton, McDonagh