Gerry McDonagh’s fourth goal of the season sent Nottingham Forest’s Under 18s to the top of the league table with a 1-0 victory over Crewe Alexandra on Saturday afternoon.
The Irish striker scored 13 minutes from time to give the dominant Reds their third win on the bounce and put themselves in pole position with three games remaining.
Jack Lester made two changes from the side that comfortably cruised past Leeds United last week with Matty Cash and McDonagh coming in to replace Jermaine Worthington and Liam Adams at Reaseheath College in Nantwich.
Forest began the encounter keenly and could’ve taken the lead as early as the second minute, but Elvis Otim pulled his diagonal effort just wide of Liam Matthews’ post following smart work from McDonagh. And the latter was involved again shortly afterwards, rifling an effort wide while centre back Frederik Nielsen also went close as the visitors peppered the opposition goal.
Fellow defender Alex Iacovitti lined up at full back instead of his familiar centre half position and he bulleted a header goal-bound after a Cash free-kick caused havoc, but Matthews stood up to the test.
McDonagh’s tireless performances for the Under 18s have earned him a couple of appearances for the Under 21s in recent weeks and he impressed further in this match, thundering a shot from the edge of the area over following impressive endeavour from Luke Thomas on the left-wing.
Like Forest, Crewe reached the FA Youth Cup quarter-final stage conquering Arsenal along the way and they played pretty football in periods, although they failed to get beyond the visitors’ defence often enough to hassle in dangerous areas, meaning keeper Tim Erlandsson had a quiet first period.
Just before the break The Reds had a flurry of opportunities and McDonagh was once again the instigator. Advancing forward, he played a selfless ball to Cash who hacked it wide. Iacovitti strode forward on the left to carve out Forest’s next chance, but Kasheme Walton couldn’t double the lead as he headed over from close range.
Soon after, the hosts’ keeper Matthews had a momentary lapse of concentration as he let the ball slip through his fingers from a cross, and Otim couldn’t capitalise diverting it against the post with the goal gaping.
The Reds needed not to be downhearted and produce more of the same after the interval, which they certainly did. Otim had an effort saved that he struck tamely early on, while McDonagh and Walton linked up brilliantly for the latter to hit wide.
Tall defender Nielsen would have wanted his next chance again, heading a dangerous Thomas corner into the ground but Matthews stopped it instinctively and it looked like it would not be Forest’s day in front of goal, despite the intense pressure.
Crewe had patches of possession with winger Charlie Kirk looking bright, but openings were hard to come by against the side who knew with a win, they would go top of the table.
Lester freshened things up and Kieran Hayes came on to replace Otim, with the substitute looking to replicate last week’s immense impact off the bench.
Forest remained willing offensively chasing every ball and finally their dominance told with a very well deserved first goal of the game. The heavily involved McDonagh ran onto a ball just inside the area and slid it past Matthews with composure to set up an interesting last ten minutes.
The hosts woke up and started to play quicker with a bit more pro-active purpose. Erlandsson was on hand to make a quality stop from a thudding long range effort, at full-stretch to palm away. Drives from long range were all the Cheshire outfit could muster, with the Reds’ two banks of four undeterred.
But with more committed men forward for Crewe came risk and Walton was close to doubling the lead with the clock ticking, but his header crashed against the bar after more good work from Thomas.
And like so often this season, the youngsters showed tactical togetherness to see the game through, ensuring a one-point gap in top spot and maintaining their superlative unbeaten league record, with their only loss in five months coming at the hands of a strong Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Youth Cup.
Lester’s Under 18s will be looking for maximum points to take the gap at the top to four points when they next face Sheffield Wednesday in South Yorkshire on Tuesday, March 24 (1pm kick-off)
Forest: Erlandsson, Yates, Karo, Nielsen, Iacovitti, Otim (Hayes 76’), Cash, Crookes, Thomas, Walton, McDonagh