U21s: City 2 Birmingham 1
Reece Hales bundled the visitors ahead in the first half, but a stunning volley from Tom Hopper and a second half strike from trialist Conor Clifford put the Foxes in front.
Hopper, Harry Panayiotou and Joe Dodoo all had further chances for Steve Beaglehole’s side, but in the end two goals proved to be enough as City held out for a deserved victory.
City lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Panayiotou being flanked by Dodoo and Hopper, while Clifford, Joey Jones and Jak McCourt made up the midfield three.
The visitors gave a start to former Crystal Palace man Darren Ambrose, who was returning from a long-term knee injury, as well as trialists Mason Watkins and Olly Lee.
Beaglehole’s side started on the front foot, enjoying the lion’s share of possession but unable to put Birmingham ‘keeper Nick Townsend to the test despite some dangerous balls in from Liam Moore on the right.
On 12 minutes Dodoo must have thought he’d scored when a low shot was deflected inches wide with Townsend wrong-footed, and again from the resulting corner, only to see his volley from Hopper’s flick-on fizzle past the post.
However with City unable to unlock a stubborn defensive line, the Blues enjoyed their own brief spell of pressure and soon took a somewhat fortunate 27th minute lead.
Striker Hales chased down a long ball and when City ‘keeper Conrad Logan saved at the number nine’s feet, the ball rebounded back off him and trickled into the net for 1-0.
City responded in a determined manner and seven minutes later a moment of real quality from Hopper hauled them back to level terms.
The 19-year-old, who has recently returned from a loan spell with Bury, showed great persistence to chase down a long clearance, before unleashing an unstoppable left foot volley 20-yards out on the angle, which crashed against the post and into the net.
The returning Ambrose then tried his luck from the edge of the area only to see Logan pull off an impressive save, while Moore’s ambitious free kick attempt went wide to ensure the sides went in all-square at the break.
It was again the Foxes who started the second period the brighter of the two sides.
First Hopper fired into the side netting on his left foot after beating Jack Deaman to the ball, before Dodoo’s low effort from 20 yards was well saved on 54 minutes.
The hosts were beginning to overwhelm the away side, who were defending deeper and deeper as Dodoo, Hopper and George Taft all went close with well worked efforts.
Ambrose also saw his spectacular overhead kick go a whisker wide for Birmingham, but it wasn’t until the 76th minute that City finally got their noses in front.
Blues ‘keeper Townsend couldn’t hold onto an effort from the right, and lively midfielder Clifford did well to get it under control in the box, before unleashing a powerful right foot strike that stung the goalkeeper’s fingertips on its way into the top corner.
A host of substitutions followed for Birmingham as they tried to salvage a point, but the central defensive pairing of Taft and Alie Sesay stood up well to the test as an impressive and battling performance from City got the three points it deserved.
City (4-3-3): Logan (c); Moore, Sesay, Taft, Elder; Jones, McCourt, Clifford; Hopper, Panayiotou (Paratore 87), Dodoo
Subs not used: Madauko, Brennan, Samba, Anton
Goals: Hopper 34, Clifford 76
Birmingham (4-4-2): Townsend, Deaman, Bell, Adams (Truslove 86), Fry, Watkins, Higgins (Gray 71), Lee, Hales, Ambrose (Henry-Francis 75), Arthur
Subs not used: Howker, Preston
Goal: Hales 27
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