Two showpiece games, exactly three years apart in the same stadium, both Manchester City under-18s 6, Stoke City 0.
Both saw Stoke players and big followings of Stoke support travel with real excitement – and return home in bitter disappointment.
But three years on from the first, that FA Youth Cup semi-final defeat, a chunk of that Stoke team went on regardless to make a senior breakthrough.
Tyrese Campbell is leading the line up front, Tom Edwards has made 51 appearances, Harry Souttar is proving himself as one of the leading defenders in League One on loan at Fleetwood. Lasse Sorensen is a contender to step up in Joe Allen’s absence. Thibaud Verlinden, injured that night, is in Michael O’Neill’s picture too.
And Man City do have a particularly strong youth set up, perhaps the best in the world – even if only Phil Foden from the 2017 side is on Pep Guardiola’s radar. Jadon Sancho is starring for Borussia Dortmund, Brahim Diaz plays for Real Madrid.
Watch out this time for James McAtee, Cole Palmer and, of course, Liam Delap from this team that won the Premier League Cup.
And, never mind the result, watch out for these junior Potters too as they try to step up and catch the eye of O’Neill, who was in the stands on Tuesday.
Stoke coach Rich Walker said: “Man City have a good Academy, good players and they can be ruthless – as we’ve encountered now on the same date on two separate occasions.
“There is a lot of learning to take place from these and we’ve got a group of good players who are also honest players. They’ll have a good reflect, we’ll be diligent in that process, and hopefully come through it all stronger. I’m sure they will.
“Our objective is to get players into our first team. We want to win trophies too but that’s purely part of the journey. Ultimately we want to get players in the first team.
“The levels we have played to this season and during the time in the Academy suggests we have got players who can do that and go on to have successful careers.
“Obviously that wasn’t showcased this time but our jobs are not to judge on 90 minutes but to look at the bigger picture. We’re not going to make any erratic judgements on players.”
Stoke had been at their best in this competition, steamrollering Norwich 8-0 in the quarter-finals and beating Chelsea in the semis.
But they couldn’t find their A game on the night. Was it stage fright?
“Possibly,” said Walker. “Ultimately Man City are a good side. It’s a big occasion, for sure. We’ve got honest lads, hard-working lads and I’m sure they’ll reflect diligently and hopefully they’ll learn from this.
“They are still in development phase and for all that it’s raw and it’s bitter, there are lots of things to learn from this providing they do it right.
“Everything’s part of a learning process at this age – and it’s magnified by 20 because it’s a showcase event.
“When they lay their head on the pillows I think will regret we didn’t take the shackles off enough to get on the ball as much as we have. We resorted to going more direct quite early, which isn’t like us.
“We always want to play forward with a purpose but we didn’t quite have the bravery to take the ball in possession.
“Out of possession, we didn’t have the bravery to really, really go full tilt how we can and cause them problems. When we did go and press about 80 per cent of what our capacity is, we gained it high up the pitch and created a couple of chances.
“That’s the thing, to trust the process and play how we do. If we play like that and fall short, we can live with it. If we don’t, that’s the big regret.”
It seemed that Stoke fans might have outnumbered Man City in a crowd of more than a thousand – and there were a few familiar faces too.
Joining O’Neill and Andy Cousins were Ryan Shawcross, Nathan Collins, Sorensen, Mama Sidibe and Andy Wilkinson.
And the backing was appreciated.
“I’ve got to say the Stoke fans were absolutely fantastic,” said Walker.
“They were desperate to make some noise. Unfortunately we didn’t give them that real opportunity to get behind us. I felt certain the boys would, but as I keep saying, we’ll learn from it.
“But a massive thank you to the Stoke fans from the players and coaching staff and obviously we’re bitterly disappointed we couldn’t give them a night to really remember and go home with real fondness.”
MAN CITY v STOKE FA YOUTH CUP SEMI FINAL
March 10, 2017
Manchester City: Muric, Wilson, Francis, Coveney, Duhaney, Smith, Foden, Diaz, Sancho, Nmecha, Bolton. Subs: Davenport, Gonzalez, Dele-Bashiru, Scott, Diallo.
Stoke City: Deczki, Edwards, Souttar, Da Silva, McJannet, Twyford, Dunwoody, Sorensen, Szereto, Greenidge, Campbell Subs: Read, Allen, Balde, Cherdieu, Da Silva.
MAN CITY v STOKE PL CUP FINAL
March 10, 2020
Man City: Slicker, Robinson, Burns, Egan-Riley, Wilson-Esbrand, Hodge, Bobb, McAtee, Delap, Palmer, Edozie. Subs: Charles, Mcnamara, Robertson, McNeil, Gyabi
Stoke: Broome, Macari, Coates, Akandji, R Jones, E Jones, Jarrett, Sparrow, Porter, Godfrinne, Sankoh. Subs: Cooper, Taylor, Malone, Sanali, Varian.