First blood to the Reds as Drinkwater sinks Chelsea
Posted by nickogs20 on August 18, 2008
|MUFC Reserves||1-0||Chelsea Reserves|
A solitary second-half strike from the increasingly prolific Danny Drinkwater gave United victory in the first leg of this intriguing double-header between the reserve teams of the top two sides in the country, Chelsea’s second string giving Ole Solskjaer’s men by far their toughest match of pre-season so far in a hard-fought and engaging clash at the Marstons Arena.
Solskjaer named a strong starting eleven, with club captain Gary Neville partnering James Chester at the heart of the defence and the fit-again Ben Foster between the sticks. A five-man midfield featured Brazilian twins Fábio and Rafael da Silva on the flanks and Darron Gibson in the engine room alongside Drinkwater and Sam Hewson, while Federico Macheda was charged with leading the line. Reserves Player of the Year Richard Eckersley took his turn with the captain’s armband.
The first half of the game was a cagey affair with little goalmouth action at either end. Rafael and Drinkwater forced Stuart Searle in the Chelsea goal into a couple of smart but fairly routine saves with well-struck low shots from distance, while Rafael also went close with a freekick which looked to be an attempted cross but ended up curling just wide of the far post. Chelsea’s only effort of note in the first period was a Gael Kakuta freekick which was on target but fielded comfortably by Foster, and the Blues were otherwise content to sit deep and soak up United pressure before (generally unsuccessfully) attempting to strike on the counter.
The Reds failed to turn their possession and territorial advantage into any meaningful chances, Chelsea full-backs van Aanholt and Magnay doing particularly well against Fábio and Rafael and forcing the pair infield where things were already congested. Macheda held the ball up with aplomb throughout the first 45 and Gibson and Drinkwater were in the ascendancy in the centre of midfield but, while United were marginally the better side, it was clear both teams needed to step things up a level in the second half if they had any designs on winning the match.
Cameron Stewart replaced Rafael on the right flank at half-time, no surprise given the Brazilian had played as a substitute for the first team yesterday and will likely be involved again this coming weekend. Fresh legs could have been the catalyst for a more dynamic United attack but instead it was Brendan Rogers’ Chelsea side who started the second half with far greater urgency going forward, practically laying siege to the United goal for the first quarter of an hour after the interval. Kakuta drilled a low shot just wide a couple of minutes after the restart, and moments later the French teenager played in Sergio Tejera on the right, the Spaniard’s curled effort beating Foster but thankfully (from a United perspective) just passing outside the far post.
Chelsea’s Danish striker Morten Nielsen then had a goal ruled out for offside (it’s fair to say he disagreed with the decision) while only some extremely alert goalkeeping from Foster prevented Nielsen’s replacement Fabio Borini opening the scoring after Neville misguidedly attempted to allow the ball to run through to the England keeper. When England U19 international Jacob Mellis then forced Foster into another save with a stinging 20-yard drive just before the hour mark it looked for all the world like a goal was coming, and sure enough it was. Only thing is… it came down the other end to where all the action had been taking place for the previous fifteen minutes.
United had hitherto failed to even string 3/4 passes together in the second half and the goal, while massively against the run of play, was also significantly out of character for this United side. Foster started the move, alertly claiming the ball in his own area once more and launching a prodigiously lengthy kick (one of many throughout the game) deep into Chelsea territory where Macheda latched onto it and set his sights on the opposition goal. His well-struck shot was bravely blocked by Jack Cork but ricocheted into the path of the late-arriving Drinkwater, who coolly took a touch before slotting the ball low past Searle and into the bottom corner – the midfielder’s 4th goal in as many games.
The wind was quite understandably taken out of Chelsea’s sails and, aided by the introduction of Evandro Brandão (for Macheda), United were soon very much back on an even keel in the possession stakes. Indeed, it was the Reds who looked the more likely to get the second goal of the game, Brandão somewhat spoiling an otherwise encouraging cameo with some slack control when given the opportunity to double the lead from a Gibson cross. Chelsea weren’t out of the game by any means though, and as the game moved into its latter stages Foster was again called upon to preserve a clean sheet for his side, first bravely doing just enough at the feet of Borini to prevent a clear goalscoring chance before tipping over another thunderous effort from the impressive Mellis.
Jimmy Derbyshire, Magnus Eikrem and Matty James all got some time on the pitch (as did Chelsea’s outfield subs) as the clock ran down and Eikrem nearly added some gloss to the scoreline in injury-time, cutting in from the left and beating two defenders before pulling his shot agonisingly just wide of the near post. In truth a 2-0 win would have flattered United somewhat and, when the final whistle sounded shortly after, no-one in red could have had any complaints with only winning by the one goal after a really stern test from a visiting side who deserved a share of the spoils.
Eckersley and Drinkwater were the outstanding performers in red shirts, the former comprehensively schooling Chelsea’s Fabio Ferreira and getting forward down the left to good effect while the latter’s slick passing, constant running and superbly-taken goal probably just about earn him man of the match status. Ben Foster was also impressive, looking every inch the future United and England #1 in everything he did and seemingly showing no signs of any further knee trouble. Mellis, Cork and van Aanholt all impressed for Chelsea and their side as a whole showed enough to suggest that Solskjaer’s unbeaten record as reserve team manager will be under serious threat when United travel to Cobham to face the Blues on their own turf next Tuesday.
1. Ben Foster
2. David Gray
3. Richard Eckersley (c)
4. James Chester
5. Gary Neville (12. Jimmy Derbyshire 75)
6. Darron Gibson
7. Rafael da Silva (16. Cameron Stewart 46)
8. Danny Drinkwater
9. Federico Macheda (15. Evandro Brandão 60)
10. Sam Hewson (17. Matty James 83)
11. Fábio da Silva (14. Magnus Eikrem 75)
Sub not used:
13. Ron-Robert Zieler