Penybont goalkeeper Jack Jenkins proved Wrexham’s nemesis, with a stunning display of goalkeeping at Latham Park, Newtown, to end the young Red Dragons’ hopes of reaching a first Welsh Youth Cup final since 2010.
Having almost single-handedly kept Wrexham at bay in a goalless draw during normal time, the 19-year-old custodian then produced three saves from the spot to clinch a 3-2 penalty shoot-out success.
It was a cruel blow for Dan Nolan’s side who spent the game camped in the opposition half as they tried to break through Penybont’s resolute defence, their opponents managing just a single effort on goal during the goalless 90 minutes.
While Wrexham’s Head of Youth was understandably frustrated at the semi-final defeat, he was quick to praise the team’s overall performance.
“It’s obviously disappointing but the message to the lads in the Changing Room was ‘well played, you couldn’t have done much more’, explained Nolan.
“We created loads of chances, and, on another day, we could have won four or five-nil. Other than actually scoring I don’t think we’d have changed anything.
“Their objective of trying to keep it tight, be compact, not allowing us to play through them, from their perspective worked well. That said, their keeper still had to make six or seven saves, two of which were excellent. Had we got that goal then I think the game would have opened up.”
The tone for the match was set early on as Wrexham took control of the midfield and Penybont dropped deeper and deeper towards their own goal.
Jacob Milner was a constant threat down the right flank and on 16 minutes he sped past Leo Roberts before centring for Mikey Hayman, the striker seeing two efforts blocked before Harry Ashfield suffered a similar fate.
Ashfield came closing to breaking the deadlock eight minutes later as Jenkins failed to hold Owen Cushion’s flighted corner, the midfielder seeing his shot fly narrowly wide through a crowd of players.
Another Milner centre caused panic in the Penybont defence, Elijah Fulker just deflecting the ball past the unmarked Caleb Hughes before Jenkins acrobatically saved from Hayman; Dan Davies’ follow-up shot producing another superb one-handed stop.
Time and again Jenkins was on hand to deny Wrexham with further saves from Hughes and Hayman ahead of the interval. That break allowed the South Wales side to regroup, playing the second-half with two banks-of-five on the edge of the penalty area with Welsh Schoolboy International Eduardo Breggua looking to break forward whenever play broke down.
Wrexham did have the ball in the net just before the hour mark, but Aaron James was adjudged to have fouled Jenkins during a goalmouth scramble, the defender having to race back to deny the skilful Breggua moments later. Wrexham brought on Callum Edwards and James Rainbird in an effort to break the deadlock but still Jenkins remained unbeaten as he saved from Milner, Hughes, and Cushion.
After Jack Shaw’s shot had been easily saved by Matty Hess, the introduction of Alfie Lussey for Reece Oliver produced fresh impetus to Wrexham’s attacking forays with Rainbird (twice) and Ashfield both denied in stoppage time.
Edwards almost capitalised on a fine through ball from Cushion, the substitute nipping the ball wide of the onrushing keeper only to see his shot role agonisingly across the face of an unguarded goal.
And so, the game went to penalties with Jenkins saving from Cushion, James, and Hughes to earn his side a place in the final against TNS.
Wrexham: Matty Hess, Max Hayes, Dan Davies (James Rainbird 69), Rowan Davies, Aaron James, Reece Oliver (Alfie Lussey 81), Harry Ashfield, Owen Cushion, Mikey Hayman (Callum Edwards 61), Caleb Hughes, Jacob Milner.
Subs: Jack Pilkington, Dan Wright.