Rams make U18s work hard for a point
Posted by nickogs20 on September 20, 2008
|Manchester United U18||2-2||Derby County U18|
|Brandão 23||–||Prijovic 50|
|Ajose 53||–||Ojamaa 62|
United’s Academy side twice took the lead and twice were pegged back by an impressive Derby team in a game that could have gone either way and deservedly ended up with honours even. Goals from Evandro de Carvalho Brandão and Nicky Ajose were cancelled out by strikes from the Rams’ livewire strike pairing Aleksander Prijovic and Henrik Ojamaa on a gloriously sunny morning at Carrington.
Paul McGuinness’ teamsheet showed two outfield changes from the United side that won so emphatically at Huddersfield last week – Evandro Brandão replacing Nicky Ajose (who dropped to the bench) and Cameron Stewart coming in for Davide Petrucci (absent for reasons as yet unknown), as the formation switched to a 4-4-2 with triallist Lee Askham swapping from right flank to left. The only other change was in goal, as Gary Woods returned to the team in place of Ben Amos behind the now-familiar back four of Kenny Strickland, Reece Brown, Scott Wootton and Oliver Gill. Joe Dudgeon, Scott Moffatt, Robbie Brady and Joshua King were all on the sidelines as they continue to recover from injuries.
The most notable aspect of a first twenty minutes bereft of goalscoring opportunities was Derby’s high-tempo approach to the game. United were given no time whatsoever in possession and, as a result, couldn’t settle into any kind of rhythm. It was nearly twenty minutes before the Reds had even a sniff of goal, Brandão racing clear after skipper Matty James’ pass split the defence but losing possession as he tried to cut back inside onto his favoured right foot.
That should have been ample warning for a Derby defence that had been solid up until that point, but a few minutes later they fell behind as the same player raced clear in the same position, and it didn’t even take a precise through-ball this time. As the ball was hit forward towards Kiko Macheda, the visitors’ stopped playing, assuming the Italian was offside. No flag or whistle was forthcoming and Macheda had all the time in the world to head for goal and slide Brandão in with a simple reverse ball. The Portuguese still had some work to do but showed terrific composure to dink the ball over the advancing Rams keeper Kean with the outside of his right foot and find the far corner.
Derby heads could have dropped at that point but they did anything but. United probed for opportunities to extend their lead but the best chances in the remainder of the half were all created by the visitors. Shortly after that opening goal only a last-ditch Reece Brown block prevented Prijovic from at the very least seriously testing Woods, and Prijovic came close on a couple of other occasions – first watching a cross-shot drift agonisingly wide after a corner was cleared to him and latterly, just before the break, sending a free header over the bar when he should have done better.
The best chance of an equaliser before the interval however fell to Prijovic’s strike partner, 17 year-old Estonian Henrik Ojamaa. Derby’s right-winger Mills had looked lively all half and, as the 45 minutes neared a close, he seized on an opportunity to dispossess the dithering Gill and cut into the penalty area from the byline. His pull-back presented the unmarked Ojamaa with a golden chance to level things up but Woods plunged brilliantly to his right to keep the forward’s effort out and United’s clean sheet intact.
When the referee blew for half-time the Reds were delighted to be in front but definitely knew they were in a game. One lapse aside Derby had been resolute at the back while their prodigious workrate was successfully stifling United’s creativity. At the other end the Rams’ forwards were giving Brown, Wootton and co. their sternest test of the season thus far by some margin. All that was lacking from the visitors’ performance was a goal, and manager David Lowe sent his team out for the second half on a mission to rectify that.
The first five minutes of the second period were all Derby – no exaggeration. Ojamaa immediately threatened, dancing past Brown and Strickland only being denied by the woodwork. United simply couldn’t get hold of the ball, and their opponents forced last-ditch tackles, blocks and interceptions as well as numerous corners as they sought to get back on terms. The pressure soon told, and it was from one of those corners that the score was tied. Mills’ set-piece was unconvincingly punched away by Woods and the ball rebounded off Wootton, sitting up perfectly for Prijovic. The Serb’s volley was hacked away by the despairing Gill but the linesman correctly adjudged the ball to have crossed the line, bringing to an end a spell without United conceding a goal that had reached 350 minutes of match time.
McGuinness sensed the momentum was all with United’s opponents (it would have been impossible to not to) and made two instant changes in personnel – Chris Curran for Askham and Nicky Ajose for Brandão – in a bid to stem the tide. The latter change had an immediate impact that legendary supersub and reserve manager Ole Solskjaer, watching the second half from the sideline, would have been proud of. Macheda held off a number of defenders on halfway before feeding James and making a run for the return ball. Taking that in his stride, last season’s top scorer for the Academy played a perfectly-weighted ball in behind the defence for Ajose to sprint onto. The Bury-born youngster composed himself and coolly slotted the ball past Kean to restore United’s lead, totally against the run of play.
Again, if the hosts expected their opponents to crumble upon going a goal behind, they had another thing coming. Prijovic came close twice more and Derby started to build up another head of steam. Desperate United defending saw more corners conceded and it was again from a set-piece that Derby levelled for the second time, just after the hour mark. Mills’ delivery to the back post cleared everyone in a red shirt and was headed back across goal by Rams defender Jermaine Johnson. The centre-half’s header was on its way in anyway but Ojamaa popped up at the back post to flick the ball in and claim the goal.
With half an hour remaining, Derby were well and truly in the ascendancy and would have been most people’s favourites to emerge with all three points, yet a push from the away side for a winning goal never really materialised. It would be easy to say United weathered the Derby storm but in truth it was more a case of the Derby storm petering out largely of its own accord – after some confidence-denting results recently maybe they were prepared to settle for a point? Sensing this, it was the Reds who showed the greater urgency going forward as the game reached its latter stages, Chris Curran featuring heavily, never more so than when finding himself six yards out and on the end of a Cameron Stewart cross that had deflected into his path. To the Ulsterman’s dismay, his shot cannoned away off Kean’s legs to safety.
Stewart was also featuring heavily as the clock ticked down and had his own glaring chance to win the game for United with just a couple of minutes remaining. Derby failed to deal with a Norwood corner effectively and when the ball fell to Stewart 12 yards out and on his right foot, you’d have backed the young Mancunian to at least hit the target. Unfortunately for everyone of a Red persuasion the 17 year-old dragged his shot wide of the post – a point apiece it was to be.
Final score – United U18s 2 Derby U18s 2
There are some significant comparisons to be made between today’s game and the reserves’ draw with Blackburn on Thursday night. There was definitely a great deal more goalmouth action in this morning’s clash but in both games, United sides who have gotten used to having things somewhat they’re own way throughout pre-season/early season came up against sides who posed different questions, and they found it tough to answer them. The Reds’ creative players – Norwood, James, Stewart, Macheda – had less time on the ball than they’re used to and none of them managed to impose themselves on the game as a result. This isn’t a major concern – indeed, it can only be beneficial to their development to come up against different styles of play and different methods of nullifying their abilities.
Credit has to go to Derby – a look at their results so far this season and their performance last season wouldn’t have brought to mind a team with the battling qualities and tactical discipline that were on display from those in white shirts at Carrington this morning. They came with a gameplan, executed it perfectly and showed great resilience to respond to setbacks. In Ojamaa and Prijovic they had two of the trickiest opponents United’s defenders will come across this season.
Standout performers for United? It’s certainly easier to single out those who were below-par, but Kenny Strickland was solid at right-back and the pick of the bunch defensively, while Evandro Brandão was lively, combative and hard-working upfront (in the face of some rather pernickety refereeing), took his goal well and was perhaps slightly unfortunate to be hauled off early in the second half.
1. Gary Woods
2. Kenny Strickland
3. Oliver Gill
4. Reece Brown
5. Scott Wootton
6. Matty James (c)
7. Cameron Stewart
8. Oliver Norwood
9. Evandro Brandão (14. Nicky Ajose 52)
10. Federico Macheda
11. Lee Askham (12. Chris Curran 52)
Sub not used
13. Conor Devlin
The Academy are on their travels next Saturday, Stoke City the opponents at the Michelin Sports Ground in Stoke-on-Trent.