Nottingham Forest’s Under 18s are now two points off top spot after goals from Kasheme Walton and Kieran Hayes saw them to a 2-0 home win over Leeds United on Saturday afternoon.
Walton notched his 12th of the season while Hayes stepped up from the Under 16s side successfully with an incredible solo strike to seal the victory and capitalise on a slip up by league leaders Huddersfield Town, who lost 2-1 to Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend.
Jack Lester made one change from the starting line-up that beat Coventry City last week, with Liam Adams coming in to replace Gerry McDonagh who made his debut up front for the Under 21s on Friday.
Walton scored after six minutes of the first half against the Sky Blues and it took him only five minutes longer to put The Reds ahead in this contest. The striker readied himself in the box for a fine cross from the left, and the youngster pounced with a bullet header to get his third goal of the season against the West Yorkshire outfit after grabbing a couple in the reverse fixture.
The win at Thorp Arch on November 1 began the incredible league run that has seen them unbeaten ever since, and the hosts were looking typically organised and efficient with Walton causing havoc in the attacking areas in a 4-1-4-1 formation, as Luke Thomas and Adams occupied the wings.
Central midfielder Ryan Yates was part of a flexible midfield also including Elvis Otim and Adam Crookes, and the former had Forest’s next opportunity of the game with a drive from range that arrowed over Bailey Peacock’s bar.
Leeds began the second period with a lot more purpose and Tim Erlandsson was alert two minutes in after Mallik Wilks was played through one-on-one, but the Swede made himself big and stopped a certain goal with a great stop using his legs.
Sporting a head bandage from the outset, Euan Mulhern was the visitors’ biggest threat and the number ten found space just inside the area and unleashed a curler, but Erlandsson saw it sail past the post. And Isaac Assenso had a half-chance that he fired over before The Reds turned on the style to put the game to bed.
Centre back Alex Iacovitti has recently been involved in first-team training and he scratched the scars of the opposition defence following a set-piece, however his glanced header sped wide.
But it was substitute Hayes who cut open the Leeds defence with a contender for goal of the season on 67 minutes. The attacker swapped passes with Walton on the halfway line before breaking with impressive speed, and despite the visitors having several defenders back, he ignored their challenges fearlessly and slotted calmly into the corner of the net to the delight of his teammates.
It sparked a spell of dominance for the energetic Hayes, a South Nottinghamshire Academy schoolboy. In his next involvement in behind he collected a lofted ball before diverting it wide of Peacock’s post.
And Hayes continued to peck away after being moved to form a two-man strikeforce with Walton, as the latter released the former and on his left foot, he slid the ball wide as he aimed for the far corner.
While at the other end centre halves Iacovitti and Frederik Nielsen ensured the play was in front of them, with cool defending when called upon flanked by full-backs Andreas Karo and Jermaine Worthington, who was a keen marauder down the left.
Forest saw the game through to ensure they’re unbeaten in a superb 12 league games, and now find themselves two points off top with plenty of momentum heading into the crucial final four matches.
The Under 16s were also in action at The Nigel Doughty Academy on Saturday drawing 2-2 against Leeds, with Ethan Stewart and Frenchman Virgil Gomis grabbing the goals for The Reds.
Lester’s Under 18s are next in action when they will be looking to climb into top spot with three points away at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday (March 21, 11am kick-off).
You can follow the youngsters every step of the way on their title charge with updates from all four of the remaining fixtures on the @NFFC_Academy
Forest: Erlandsson, Karo, Nielsen, Iacovitti, Worthington, Adams (Hayes 45’), Crookes, Yates, Otim, Thomas, Walton