Macheda magic in vain as U18s slump to first defeat
Posted by nickogs20 on October 4, 2008
|Manchester United U18||1-2||Crewe Alexandra U18|
|Macheda 89||–||Westwood 53|
United’s U18s were brought back down to earth with a bang at Carrington this morning as their fine start to the season was stopped in its tracks by an impressive Crewe outfit who frustrated the Reds for long periods before grabbing two decisive goals on the break. Shoddy defending and a poor final ball were hallmarks of United’s play all game and a typically well-taken goal from substitute Kiko Macheda was too little too late for Paul McGuinness’ side.
For once, my wild stab in the dark regarding the starting lineup wasn’t too far wide of the mark. As predicted, Macheda and Gary Woods were restricted to a bench role due to reserve duty past and future, while injury problems deprived McGuinness of pretty much everyone else mentioned in the preview as likely to be absent. There was one notable and significant addition to that – skipper Matty James also missed out, the reason not yet being clear.
What that meant was Conor Devlin continuing in goal, the ‘regular’ back four of Kenny Strickland, Reece Brown, Scott Wootton and Oliver Gill being reunited in defence, Ryan Tunnicliffe stepping up from the U16s to replace James in midfield and Anton Bryan dropping down to partner Nicky Ajose upfront as an over-age player. Cameron Stewart and Chris Curran continued on the wings, with Oliver Norwood assuming the captaincy.
I’m going to be honest here – this isn’t going to be one of the typically lengthy match reports I tend to write. That is probably a blessing in truth, and it’s because, well, as football matches go, this one wasn’t the most eventful by any stretch of the imagination, especially when it comes to goalmouth action. Crewe were short on form and confidence coming into the game and understandably set themselves up to get plenty of men behind the ball, frustrate a somewhat depleted United side and maybe pinch something on the break, a plan they executed extremely well. The home side were shorn of arguably their three best players for most of the game (James, Petrucci and Macheda), were really lacking a spark of inspiration, couldn’t find a final ball if their lives depended on it and dealt with the tricky, blustery conditions far less ably than their opponents.
The first half was what you might call a stalemate. United came close to opening the scoring on a couple of occasions through Ajose and Curran, and you have to think that if one of those chances had been converted, the game would almost certainly have been a very different one from that point on.
Goalkeeper Daniel Platt was the visitors’ most impressive player in the first 45, which tells you something about the balance of play perhaps, but it would be unfair to say United were in any way dominant – the Reds were the better side certainly, but they were not exactly relentlessly laying siege to the Crewe goal. Indeed, the Crewe coaching staff would probably have been the happier at the break, their team having shown real discipline to stick to their gameplan while United’s frustration at being able to make a breakthrough had all too often manifested itself in sloppy ball retention.
The second half wasn’t dissimilar in terms of the pattern it followed, but there was something of an increase in activity in both penalty areas. Unfortunately for United, while the action in the visitors’ box typically resulted in the intervention of Platt or his defenders, sloppy defending at the other end allowed Crewe to effectively achieve their best case scenario – keeping it tight at the back, frustrating the Reds and pinching a goal on the counter. Twice, in fact.
The opening goal was nicely worked in fairness, a quick team move after United again conceded possession too easily resulting in Crewe having a man over on the right hand side. That man was midfielder Ashley Westwood and he found himself with all the time in the world to pick his spot. Wootton’s despairing lunge diverted the ball into the opposite corner to where it had been aimed but Westwood’s shot was on it’s way in anyway so to call it an own goal would be to rub unnecessary salt into the wounds of a United defence who had been pretty ruthlessly exposed.
McGuinness looked to seize back the initiative for his side with the introduction of Macheda and Evandro Brandão just after the hour mark, but the pair had barely had the chance to enter the pitch before the Reds found themselves two behind. If the first goal could almost be excused due to the speed and slickness of Crewe’s counter attack, this one was all about poor defending.
I’m never keen to single players out for criticism, especially at this level, but Oliver Gill will not want to watch the passage of play that led to substitute Theo Stair doubling the Railwaymen’s lead on TV any time soon. The 18 year-old first appeared to duck out of a header that would have averted any immediate danger before stumbling over a combination of a Crewe attacker and his own feet and then finally pulling out of a challenge on right-back Danny Shelley, all of which essentially laid out the red carpet for Shelley to race to the byline and pull the ball back to the waiting Stair to tap home.
You hoped for a response from United in the last twenty minutes, and to an extent we got one. For the most part the final ball and decision-making was still sorely lacking but Norwood and Tunnicliffe both at least forced Platt into saves, the latter in particular standing out as the Reds’ best player despite his relatively tender years.
Then, after Shelley capped a stand-out performance for the visitors with a terrific freekick that cannoned against Devlin’s right-hand post, the final minute saw Tunnicliffe cleverly play Macheda in with the sort of pass that the Italian thrives on. Kiko didn’t disappoint, firing the ball across Platt and into the far corner, and faint hopes of a draw were briefly revived. As it was, the three minutes or so of stoppage time flew by with nothing of note happening and that was that, unbeaten record gone and something of a reality check for the young Reds.
How to sum the game up… first things first, fair play to Crewe. This may come across as patronising but they came to do a job, recognised their limitations, carried out their individual and collective duties to the letter and got their rewards. If they are genuinely the weakest side in FAPAL Group C (as their pre-game position in the table suggested), that speaks volumes for the strength in depth in United’s group.
Is the defeat a disaster for Paul McGuinness and his side? Not at all. Cliché alert but if anything, these young players will learn more by going through defeats and the process of responding to them than they will by cantering to victories every week. Player development is what it’s all about at this level, results are secondary, and if the players respond in the right way to this setback then the points dropped won’t matter a jot.
Special mention to Ryan Tunnicliffe, who as I mentioned above was probably the Reds’ best player despite this being his first start for the U18s. A number of players performed below the level we’ve come to expect of them but, again, that happens at this level and it’s all part of the learning curve.
And will you look at that, I’ve written even more than usual…
1. Conor Devlin
2. Kenny Strickland
3. Oliver Gill
4. Reece Brown
5. Scott Wootton
6. Oliver Norwood (c)
7. Chris Curran
8. Ryan Tunnicliffe
9. Anton Bryan (14. Federico Macheda 64)
10. Nicky Ajose
11. Cameron Stewart (12. Evandro Brandão 64)
Sub not used
13. Gary Woods
A trip to the Midlands to face Wolves is next up for the U18s, next Saturday at 11am.