ENCOURAGED co-boss Calum Wands described his aspiring Gloucestershire FA Under-18 representative team’s performance in overcoming Amateur Football Alliance as “our best of the season so far”, writes Simon Parkinson.

The talented teenagers passed their first FA County Youth Cup test with flying colours thanks to a 2-0 victory over London-based AFA on the Oaklands Park 3G to deservedly take their place in the third round where Cornwall await them on Saturday, December 9 (2pm) at the same Almondsbury venue.

Gloucestershire had already won one (3-2 v Wiltshire) and drawn one (2-2 v Berks & Bucks) of their opening South and West Counties Championship fixtures to top the early table, although 21-year-old Wands, who manages the side in tandem with Adam Coyle, emphasised: “This County Youth Cup game was always going to pose some challenges for us as we had a few players missing due to half-term so had to put together something of a last-minute squad.

“Our central midfielder Luke Spokes and left-back Harvey Paul were trialling for scholarships in America and we made Sam Lacey (centre-half) skipper for the first time. He led the team really well which we knew he was capable of having come up through from our under-16s.

“But we went at it all guns blazing from the start and our individual quality came through in the second half to get the two vital goals through George Neill and Elliot Gardner.”

Wands, who is also head coach of Hartpury University Women and joint coach alongside Steve Lilley with the GFA Women representative side, said: “Like Elliot, George plays for SGS Filton and he’s a big targetman who can hold the ball up well and run in behind defenders. He’s a brute force upfront and very professional in his attitude and he put us in front with a very smart back-headed finish from a long throw.

“Elliot’s a right-winger who is unbelievably quick, one of the quickest I’ve coached. His long-range angled shot for his goal looked fantastic although modestly he said it was more of an intended cross!

“Our keeper Mason Hawkins made two fantastic saves too and he’s another who played for our under-16s and knows the ropes.

“Hopefully by the time the Cornwall game comes around we’ll have everyone available to us which, on the evidence of the AFA game, will make for some tough selection decisions.”

Chair of GFA county match committee Sue Henson-Green added: “Having played AFA a few seasons ago and lost it was a great feeling to win. Our players were a credit in the way they played and didn’t stop battling.

“Last time we played AFA at Enfield we ended up going into extra-time with only nine players due to injuries so it was nice to put that experience behind us.”

In this latest encounter between the two Gloucestershire began brightly, looking to play direct and pose early problems for their opponents through their speedy wingers and creative midfielders.

The AFA fought well in the first half too, orchestrating some dangerous chances which GFA’s defence and keeper Hawkins did well to nullify.

Towards the end of the period the game became stretched and as the sides entered the break in goalless deadlock, a place in the third round was still very much up for grabs.

Again the Gloucestershire hopefuls started strongly after the break, causing more and more problems for the AFA defenders and it seemed only a matter of time before they forced a breakthrough.

Nevertheless the AFA didn’t give up, forcing Hawkins into pulling off two brilliant saves to keep them in the game.

As the contest went on Gloucestershire’s relentless pace on the wings began to tell, eventually leading to a Neill header from a tight angle looping over the flailing away keeper and into the net to hand them the lead.

Buoyed by the breakthrough the GFA team went on to make it 2-0 soon after courtesy of a brilliant finish into the top left corner from Gardner.

To their credit the AFA continued to push hard and look threatening at times, only to find their opponents in strong and composed mood at the back.