United 1 Wigan 2: Last-minute Latics stun Solskjaer’s second string
Posted by nickogs20 on October 2, 2008
|Manchester United Reserves||1-2||Wigan Athletic Reserves|
|Gray 81||–||Hampson 51|
A rare moment of real quality from Wigan’s Irish forward Craig Mahon in the final minute of an otherwise scrappy match condemned Ole Solskjaer to a first defeat as reserves manager just minutes after David Gray’s headed equaliser seemed to have preserved the Norwegian’s unbeaten record. Matty Hampson had earlier given the Latics the lead just after the interval in a match that saw both sides hampered by the near-torrential Northwich rain.
Solskjaer was forced into making five changes to the side that started the 0-0 draw with Blackburn. Ben Foster missed out due to the twisted ankle he picked up in that game, the knock Rafael da Silva suffered on Champions League duty on Tuesday night removed him from the United boss’ plans (his impressive first-team performances may have done that anyway…), while Rodrigo Possebon was absent due to the injury picked up in the Carling Cup game with Middlesbrough last week. Danny Welbeck and Danny Drinkwater were unavailable after being called up by England U19s (although Welbeck was in the crowd). OGS was also deprived of the services of Ben Amos (for the same reason as Welbeck and Drinkwater) and Fábio da Silva (shoulder injury), as well as long-term absentee Danny Galbraith.
Reinforcements came in the form of Gary Woods (a first Reserves start for the 18 year-old keeper), Corry Evans (playing in the same central defensive role he excelled in for the Academy at the weekend), Magnus Eikrem, Federico Macheda and Angolan international striker Manucho, making his debut at reserve level after a brief cameo in the Carling Cup last week. The bench featured four of the Academy side that thrashed Stoke at the weekend (Conor Devlin, Oliver Gill, Jimmy Derbyshire and Cameron Stewart), as well as Antonio Bryan, whose start to the season has been completely disrupted by injury.
The Reds started promisingly, Macheda having a goal dubiously chalked off for offside after just six minutes and Manucho and Evans both warming the palms of Postlethwaite in the Wigan goal with headers from set-pieces. Sam Hewson went extremely close after quarter of an hour, skipping past three challenges and seeing his strike from the edge of the area deflected over the Latics keeper and onto the crossbar.
United were in the ascendancy and you could have been forgiven for assuming it was a matter of when rather than if the home side took the lead. That notion was emphatically scotched just a minute or so later as Tomasz Cywka rattled Woods’ right-hand post with a fierce low shot that skipped off the sodden Marstons Arena turf. From that point on the half was pretty much end-to-end, Woods seeing a Mustoe strike hit the side-netting and having to instinctively save Mahon’s close-range effort, while United went close through Manucho on a couple of occasions and fashioned chances for Eikrem and Eckersley from excellent team moves, the latter especially instantly regretting his decision to try and pick out a team-mate when well placed to have a shot at goal himself.
The quality of the game hadn’t been especially high in the first half, the conditions taking their toll on both sides’ attempts to play football. Those conditions appeared to take their toll on Chester and Eikrem particularly, the former being replaced at half-time by Derbyshire while the latter could only last five minutes after the interval before having to make way (Cameron Stewart coming on), both after suffering knocks in the first-half. The second half also saw a number of yellow cards for players on both teams, the by-now treacherous pitch playing a big part.
It was just after making that second substitution that United were caught on the break and fell behind. The back four had been rejigged at half-time (Gray and Eckersley to centre-back, Evans to right-back, Ecks to left-back) and Wigan winger Kupisz found himself in acres of space on the left flank. The Pole outpaced the covering Gray, drew Woods and unselfishly pulled the ball for back for Hampson to slot the ball into the empty net. Perhaps harsh on United considering the balance of play but just reward for the enterprise shown by Keith Bertschin’s side.
The Reds were shell-shocked and struggled to regain their composure in the wake of that blow. Simple passes went astray and frustration started to come to the fore as Wigan set about defending their lead, Corry Evans becoming the first United player to get his name taken by the referee (Gray and Darron Gibson would later follow). It took a quarter of an hour for the home side to muster another shot on goal, Gibson’s long-range effort spilling from Postlethwaite’s grasp and Gray taking a tumble as he attempted to make something of the rebound. The Scot definitely got a push from the defender but, in making a little too much of the contact, he may have put the referee off pointing to the spot.
Just a couple of minutes later the ball was rebounding off the visitors’ keeper again, although this time he had no realistic chance of holding a terrific strike from Manucho. United had the momentum, with the impressive Angolan centre-forward dominating the Wigan defence in the air and substitute Stewart terrifying his opposing full-back Mustoe. The United wideman had already drawn one bookable challenge from his direct opponent when another break down the right flank resulted in another freekick that would result in a deserved equaliser. Gibson’s ball was met by Gray and the defender’s header somehow squirmed under Postlethwaite’s dive.
If anyone was going to take all three points at this stage, again most would have picked United. Wigan somehow escaped going down to ten men when Mustoe went in late on Evans, before Stewart again broke clear down the right and managed the impressive feat of hitting both crossbar and post with an attempted cross that completely wrong-footed Postlethwaite. Just as a draw started to look the inevitable outcome, Wigan again threw a spanner in the works with a move out of keeping with most of the football in the previous 89 minutes. A slick team move saw the ball worked to Mahon, 25 yards out with plenty of work to do. The Dubliner sidestepped Gray as the United vice-captain went to ground too easily, drove into the box and sent a shot arrowing into the far corner, Woods getting a fingertip to the ball but doing so in vain. The Reds were beaten, left with no time to salvage a second equaliser.
Fair play to Wigan, they came not just to contain the home side (which they did very well anyway) but to pose a threat of their own, and got their rewards. United will feel justly aggrieved not to have got anything from the game but really have no-one but themselves to blame – an otherwise solid defensive performance was spoiled by two moments of slack play while, for the second game running, things just didn’t click in the attacking third. Messrs Hewson, Gibson and Cleverley were again far from their best, and Kiko Macheda’s somewhat below-par start to the campaign continued.
Positives? For a guy playing his first full game since May, Manucho looked in impressive shape and was a handful for the Wigan defence from first til last, dominating in the air particularly – on another day any one of a number of flick-ons could have fallen more kindly for a team-mate – and showing a nice touch on the deck. Cameron Stewart was also a constant thorn in the Latics’ side throughout the second half, using his searing pace to great effect. With the lack of wide options available to Solskjaer and Warren Joyce he should feature more and more over the coming months.
Happily, the reserves don’t have to wait too long to try and make amends for this defeat. They take on Bolton next Wednesday at the County Ground in Leyland, scene of their Lancashire Senior Cup Final victory over Liverpool back in July.
1. Gary Woods
2. David Gray
3. Richard Eckersley
4. Corry Evans
5. James Chester (c) (15. Jimmy Derbyshire 46)
6. Darron Gibson
7. Magnus Eikrem (12. Cameron Stewart 50)
9. Federico Macheda
10. Sam Hewson (14. Antonio Bryan 84)
11. Tom Cleverley
Subs not used
13. Conor Devlin
16. Oliver Gill
Booked: Evans, Gray, Gibson.