Report: Under-23 starlets impress in Carabao Cup win

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Fledgling Seagulls Steven Alzate and Aaron Connolly made hugely impressive debuts in tonight’s Carabao Cup win, as Albion were made to work hard for the win by a well-drilled and dogged Bristol Rovers side.

By Paul Camillin • 27 August 2019

By Paul Hazlewood
Aaron Connolly smiles after scoring his first senior goal
  • Aaron Connolly impresses and opens the scoring on his first senior start for the club
  • Murray nets winner in stoppage time to kill off a spirited challenge by Bristol Rovers
  • Graham Potter rings the changes, with 11 in total and seven new faces on the bench
  • Albion into tomorrow night’s third round draw as ball number 15

Connolly and Glenn Murray bagged the goals, either side of Tom Nichols’s equaliser for the home side, with Murray’s winner coming in stoppage time, as Rovers looked to have taken the game to a penalty shoot out.

Head coach Graham Potter made 11 changes to the starting line-up, and handed under-23 starlets Alzate and Connolly their full senior debuts, along with Aaron Mooy and Adam Webster, back in Bristol following his summer move from City.

Jason Steele was the only substitute of seven to have played senior football in England, although Romanian Tudor Baluta and Dutchman Soufyan Ahannach have each played in their respective top divisions.

Striker Connolly has made no secret of his ambitions to play his way into Potter’s first-team plans. He wasted little time in showing that on the pitch, as he worked space and curled an effort wide of the far post inside the first two minutes of the contest.  

By Paul Hazlewood
Steve Alzate

The young Irishman did put the ball in the net in the 13th minute, as Alireza Jakhanbaksh raced onto Gaetan Bong’s threaded through ball, but the flag was up for offside against the Iran international, before he cut back for Connolly.

Albion were dominating possession, but the home side were making for stubborn opponents, as their own three-man central defensive trio continued to frustrate.

An excellent passing move down the right, saw Alzate one-two with Jakhanbaksh, before picking out the run of Bernardo on the opposite side of the Bristol box. The Brazilian’s low shot was well saved by Anssi Jaakkola, and while Murray was on hand to fire home the rebound, the flag was raised against the Albion striker.

By Paul Hazlewood
Gaetan Bong

It wasn’t just Connolly who caught the eye in the opening stages, his under-23 teammate Alzate didn’t look out of place, showing a neat array of passing going forward. He also showed his defensive mettle to make a perfectly timed tackle to deny Abu Ogogo from close range, as Bristol Rovers made a rare foray forward before the half-hour mark.

Albion opened the second half with a smart counter-attack from a Bristol free kick. Mooy collected the loose ball on the right, and sprayed a brilliant pass into Connolly. His first touch with his chest was excellent, before he found Bernardo driving forward on the left. By now Mooy had made up ground, and collected Bernardo’s pass inside, and drove a fine low shot, which was sneaking in the bottom left corner, before a superb save by Jaakkola.

Bernardo was the provider again moments later, this time sending in an excellent cross, but Tony Craig made a superb defensive header, getting just enough on the ball to divert it behind for a corner, with Connolly lurking.

By Paul Hazlewood
Adam Webster and Leon Balogun contest an aerial challenge.

It almost seemed inevitable Connolly would score, and when it finally came it was a simple close-range finish, as he reacted quickest to Jakhanbaksh’s deflected shot and tucked the ball home for his first senior goal.

Tom Nichols levelled the scores with an opportunist strike after 64 minutes, controlling the ball on his chest, he brought it down and rifled home into the top corner of the net. The home fans had been right behind their team all night, but the goal pushed the volume inside the Memorial Stadium up an extra notch.

By Paul Hazlewood
Pascal Gross

With 20 minutes left to play, Connolly got the better of Craig, making up ground on him and then outmuscling the Rovers defender. Keeper Jaakkola again did well to smother Connolly’s shot from a tight angle. 

Albion continued to press as the clock ticked down towards a penalty shoot-out; Webster towered above the Rovers defence to get onto Pascal Gross’s free kick and power a downward header toward goal, which was snuffed out. 

By Paul Hazlewood
Adam Webster

The home side continued to hold firm, as moments later Jaakkola was called upon to foil Murray at close range; and when Alzate cleverly worked space in the box, his shot was deflected behind for a corner.

Albion’s persistence finally paid off in stoppage time, as Murray turned the ball home from close range, after Alzate capped an impressive night’s work by creating the winner. The youngster started the move in his own half, before popping up in the Bristol box to work the opening for striker Murray.

ALBION: Button; Balogun, Webster, Bong; Bernardo, Alzate, Mooy, Jahanbakhsh; Murray, Connolly, Gross.

SUBS NOT USED: Steele (GK), A. Davies, Cochrane, Baluta, Sanders, Roberts, Ahannach.