The last week or so has seen both our U-21 and U-18 play home games against our rich neighbours from across town. That gave us an opportunity to see how we compared to a team that is throwing money at all levels of the club.
First up was the U-21, played at Salford. Before the game both team were level on points in 7th and 8th positions in the league, both trying to close the gap on leaders Fulham and get into the semi final positions
The game started brightly for United with just 2 minutes on the clock before a great chance was created. Lingard ran on to a through ball and drove to the edge of the box and shot but it straight at the City keeper. It did look as though Lingard should have taken the ball closer in but its all easy with hindsight.
That bright start wasn’t to last and City began to knock the ball about with precision and were buzzing in and around the United 18 yard box. On 8 minutes, a City free kick from the very edge of the right side of the box was played into the area and smashed towards goal where Sam Johnstone pulled off a terrific save to knock the ball out for a corner. Johnstone is a much improved player over the last 18 months and he has no doubt benefited from his loan spells and he should be ready for a long career in the game.
Sadly for Johnstone his good work was wasted as from the resulting corner City scored with a free header, very poor marking from United which cost us dearly.
For the remainder of the first half, the game followed a similar path as City kept the majority of possession and definitely looked the more likely to score but the half time whistle came with no added goals and City going in with a 1-0 lead.
The second half was a mere 90 seconds old before the complexion of the game changed when United grabbed an equalizer. The ball was played out of United’s defence to Petrucci in the centre circle. He turned and laid a perfect pass into the path of Jesse Lingard who did the same as he had done in the first couple of minutes in the first half, by driving to the edge of the box and this time his crisp well placed shot beat the City keeper and into the bottom corner of the net.
We hoped that the goal would give United the boost they needed but the opposite happened as City seemed to up their game a notch and continue to create chances
United were level for less than 10 minutes before Devonte Cole, son of United striker Andy, laid the ball on a plate for an onrushing team mate who netted with the aid of a deflection.
Sadly for United, City continued to dominate for long periods of the remainder of the game and saw out the remainder of the match without too many dramas to grab a 2-1 win.
Its difficult to judge teams or compare them at U-21 level as so many players are missing through loan spells. United, for instance, had to play with a lone striker in Will Keane as we had no one else. He too has now gone out on loan, to QPR so it remains to be seen who will play up front in the coming weeks and months.
The U-18 game was also a home fixture with City coming into the game on the back of 12 straight wins and top of the table, whilst United’s form has been patchy. United were also without our 2 top scorers and main strikers, James Wilson and Ash Fletcher, This meant we had to play some U-16 players and mostly first year trainees whilst City had a team full of final year trainees. The difference is there for all to see in regards to physique, stamina, decision making and general experience
With a very strong wind behind their backs City wasted no time in getting a foothold on the game with United struggling to get out of their own half. This went on for the first 10 minutes before City grabbed their inevitable goal but it took a howler from United to gift it too them.
The ball was played back to United keeper Dean Henderson and with all the time in the world to clear tried it hit his clearance quite low to keep it blowing straight up in the air in the strong wind. All he managed was to roll the ball to the feet of an unmarked City player inside the area who gleefully put the ball into the net.
The game carried on in the same way until half time with United struggling to put any kind of passing moves together and had not mustered a single shot on target.
We hoped that the gusting wind would help United now it was at their backs but it wasn’t to be as city carried on regardless and dominated proceedings. For all their total domination of possession, we went into injury time just one goal down and that from a horrendous mistake. Sadly, City did grab another in injury time to give the scoreline a more realistic look.
It truth, and it hurts me to say it, City were on a completely different level to United at this age group. I would have expected them to be slightly better due to age difference but the gap between them was vast with United having nothing to shout about at all.