Derby 1 (Ibrahim 89) Wolves 2 (Esen 42, Roberts 55)
Steve Davis’ impressive young Wolves side held firm to withstand late Derby County pressure and secured victory to end a frustrating five game winless run.
Wolves travelled to Moor Farm eager to turn their spirited recent performances into results and were able to do so with thumping finishes from Josh Esen and Tyler Roberts, which proved too much for Derby, despite the hosts’ best attempts at staging a late comeback.
Both sides started the game with energy and intent, making for an entertaining opening ten minutes in the East Midlands. The hosts were presented with the first big chance of the game when Derby’s Jayden Davidson was played clean through on goal with a well weighted forward pass. The Rams’ tricky winger looked set to open the scoring, but his audacious chip was miscalculated and trickled marginally wide of the post, much to the relief of the towering Jimmy Storer in the Wolves goal.
As the clock approached the half-hour mark, the visitors came even closer to breaking the deadlock courtesy of their defiant captain on the day, Kam Kandola. A free-kick on the left flank was won in a dangerous area and Keto-Diyawa whipped in a pinpoint ball to towards the back post which was met by Kandola who rose highest – the captain connected well with the cross, but his header could only rattle against the crossbar. A warning side for the young Rams.
Wolves continued to grow into the game, looking more threatening with each attack. Their persistence eventually came to fruition just three minutes from the half-time break when Esen was in the right place at the right time to smash a low shot beyond the imperious Alfie Roberts and into the back of the Derby net.
Captain Kandola came close to doubling the score for the visitors just moments later when he looked to cheekily redirect a hopeful shot from distance, but the outrushing Roberts was alert to it and aided by his defenders, the hosts were able to clear.
Half-time | Derby County 0-1 Wolves
Derby looked to catch the visitors out in a quick transition early in the second period. The hosts worked it well on the counter-attack, with a good ball swept out to Reece Nicholas-Davies in space on the left flank. The Derby number eleven cut back inside on his favoured right foot and found the skilful Davidson who let the ball run past him, drawing a foul just outside the penalty area. Ola Ibrahim was the man over the free-kick for Derby and he struck it well but failed to find corner, forcing Storer to acrobatically tip over the crossbar.
It didn’t take long for Wolves to make their mark on the second-half with the ever-electric Roberts once again showing his quality and doubling the lead for the visitors just ten minutes after the restart. Roberts was found in space on the edge of the eighteen-yard box, he shifted the ball from out of his feet before directing a low, driven shot across goal and into the far corner, beyond the diving Derby goalkeeper.
For the closing 20 minutes, chances were few and far between for both sides with the majority of the game being tightly contested in midfield. Frustrations started to show for the hosts however, when Nicholas-Davies recklessly flew into a late challenge on Wolves’ Mason Rees, resulting in an indisputable yellow card, the first and only of the game.
A glorious chance to put the game to bed with a third goal presented itself to Owen Farmer in the closing minutes of the contest when second-half substitute, Nathan Fraser, found the feet of the energetic number nine with a perfectly floated through ball over the top to see Farmer clean through on goal. The diminutive forward’s first touch was good, but he failed to keep his shot down, blazing high over the bar.
Farmer’s late miss wasn’t to be the last chance of the game however, when only minutes later Derby punished the visitors’ lack of ruthlessness by pulling a goal back with a minute to spare courtesy of Ibrahim who was impressive all game. Wolves were caught slacking as Ibrahim worked himself some space just inside the penalty box and his darting low effort, comparable to Wolves’ second, nestled into the corner and beyond the reach of Storer.
Full-time | Derby County 1-2 Wolves
On bouncing back and his side’s impressive performance
Steve David said: “I thought they were excellent. More or less the same sort of group, another young group with a sprinkle of experience as well with the lads that have played most of the season up in the 18s and a bit for the 23s, so I think they helped.
“Having that core in the team, that experience, helped the younger ones today and I thought to be fair, it should have been more than two [goals].
“I thought we dominated large periods, had a lot of good chances, and didn’t take them. So that’s something to learn from, just be a little bit more clinical, but overall, a really good performance, so I was pleased today.”
On the exciting rise of 13-year-old Mackenzie Bradbury
David said: “I think he’s done excellently. He’s been playing well in the 16s, so he deserved a go. We put him in [to the side] and we didn’t know what he was going to do so it was a bit of a sink or swim situation for him.
“I thought he was excellent against Manchester United, he came on against Burnley but played for the 16s again, and then he’s started again today.
“I think he’s only a couple days off being 14 years of age, so when you look at that, as an under 15, playing against a very physical Derby [County] team, I thought he was excellent again today.”
On Kam Kandola wearing the captain’s armband
“He’s a leader. He was a leader when he was a young kid and is still a leader now, and he’s a good leader because he helps, supports, and encourages.
“He had a terrific game today, he kept his game simple, stepped in on the occasions that he had to and was good in both boxes; clearances from our own box and opportunities [to score]. He had a couple of great headers that were saved, he hit the bar in the first half with a header.
“You know, dropping into the 18s, he played a few games in the 23s, he’s been around it, he trains with the 23s regularly, so you always question what they’ll do when they come down and play in the 18s, but he’s been excellent. I’ve never really questioned his attitude; it’s always spot on and today he put in a fantastic performance I thought.”
Having made it through a busy period, Wolves now only have two games remaining of this U18 Premier League campaign – home fixtures against Stoke City this weekend, followed by a midweek matchup against Sunderland to round off the season.
When asked what to expect from the upcoming fixtures, Davis explained: “Much of the same really as today. Stoke are predominantly drilled, well organised and physical – I’m just going to focus on us and who plays and who gets challenged.
“I’m not really too bothered about what they do or who they put out, I think it’s more about how we look and how the older players support the young players coming into the group because they were in that position 18 months ago. It’s also about how the young players perform, you know I’m going to give others a game.
“I said to one or two of the other lads today, Fabian [Reynolds] didn’t get on and so he’ll start in one the [remaining two] games, and Fraser Harper has been doing well. Played really well in the 16s’ last game so came on for the last part of the game [today]. so again will start in one of those two remaining games.
“We need to know what [the young players] do and how they go about the game and how they cope with it, ready for next season. So, we’re just planning for that really. Second half of this season has really been about putting the younger players in in preparation for next season.”
07/05 Stoke (H)
10/05 Sunderland (H)
Derby: Roberts, Brailsford, Kelly (Moore, 61), Hawkins, Robinson (Christie 71), Rutt, Davidson, Ibrahim, Niven, Sebagabo, Nicholas-Davies
Unused subs: Price, Dixon, Fapetu
Wolves: Storer, Keto-Diyawa, Kaleta (Clarke 63), Kandola, Voice, Patterson (Fraser 71), Bradbury (Harper 79), Rees, Farmer, Esen, Roberts
Unused subs: Salmon
By Ollie Spencer