United 2 Chelsea 3: Youth Cup heartbreak as young Reds shoot themselves in the foot
Posted by nickogs20 on November 27, 2008
|Manchester United U18s||2-3||Chelsea U18s|
|Morrison 8||–||Kakuta 42|
|Welbeck 89||–||Nouble 45|
After last year’s disappointing fourth round FA Youth Cup exit against Carlisle United, United’s U18s were desperate to mount a serious challenge for the trophy this season and to overcome a perilous third round draw that paired them with last year’s finalists Chelsea. The players and coaching staff will go to bed tonight (and will probably wake up tomorrow) wondering just how they will not be in the hat when the draw for the fourth round is made.
Missed chances and defensive lapses were the story of the night as a game United led through Ra’vel Morrison’s early goal and dominated for the first 42 minutes was spectacularly turned on its head by two Chelsea goals in three minutes before half-time. Those strikes (from Gäel Kakuta and Frank Nouble) left the Reds with a mountain to climb, one that eventually became unclimbable when Fabio Borini netted a killer third goal for the Blues on the counter attack. Danny Welbeck’s late effort gave the Reds hope but it wasn’t to be, and for the second straight season Paul McGuinness is left with the task of picking up the pieces after a desperately disappointing early exit from the Youth Cup.
McGuinness’ starting lineup saw Davide Petrucci, star man in the weekend’s win at Blackburn, surprisingly left on the subs bench as Danny Welbeck was brought in for his first Academy game since January as a strike partner for Kiko Macheda. McGuinness opted for the more natural width offered by Morrison and Robbie Brady, rather than including Petrucci in an unfamiliar wide role. At the back, Oliver Gill and Scott Wootton were the chosen centre-back partnership, while Ryan Tunnicliffe got the nod at right-back.
The Reds started off on the front foot and fashioned a golden chance for Welbeck within the first few minutes. Oliver Norwood’s through ball found the Longsight-born striker, 18 yesterday, in acres of space behind the back four and he wasn’t going to be caught. Unfortunately the teenager was gripped by indecision and in the end seemed to take so long deciding whether to chip the keeper or take it round him that he was engulfed by defenders and ultimately robbed by Chelsea keeper Heimann. A disappointing end result but the ease with which the visitors’ defence was breached was hugely encouraging and a sign of things to come.
Just five minutes later United did have the lead. Macheda did well to flick Norwood’s ball on with his head but it looked like Chelsea right-back Ahmed would just get to the loose ball first and clear. Morrison had other ideas, sneaking in to pinch a ball he had no real right getting to before coolly side-footing the ball past Heimann for his third goal of the season, further adding to his burgeoning reputation.
The home side were oozing with confidence at this stage, never seriously looking under threat from a willing but somewhat toothless Chelsea attack while controlling possession in key areas of the pitch and looking a constant threat in attacking areas. Welbeck and Morrison roamed the pitch seemingly with no other instruction than to cause havoc, Macheda worked harder than he probably ever has before to deny the Chelsea defenders any space while Brady was having his best game yet in United red. Unfortunately his game was to end prematurely, the young Dubliner forced from the field just after the half-hour mark by injury. Cameron Stewart was his replacement.
At around the same time, the Reds had another golden chance to add to their lead, Morrison again at the heart of things. The England schoolboy international got in behind the Chelsea defence once more and bore down on Heimann, proceeding to then twist the Blues’ German stopper into knots with a series of feints and spins in a bid to engineer a clearer shooting opportunity. Eventually the 15 year-old laid the ball off to the late-arriving Matt James, whose shot was blocked on the goalline and sat up awkwardly for Morrison, who could only volley over. The youngster’s coolness and obvious ability was a joy to watch, but you couldn’t help wishing he’d maybe got a shot away earlier before defenders in blue were able to get back to save the day.
Nonetheless, at that point the notion that such profligacy could end up costing the Reds seemed an unlikely one, such was United’s control of the match. Football has a way of laughing in the face of any such complacency though and, sure enough, from coasting at 1-0 up as the clock ticked towards 42 minutes, United’s U18s found themselves heading down the tunnel at the interval 2-1 down.
First Norwood’s pass was intercepted by the impressive Philliskirk, whose floated ball to the back post exposed some sloppy United marking and allowing the lurking Kakuta to instinctively toe-poke the Blues level. At that point you just wanted the Reds to get to the break with the scores level – they’d be disappointed but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Unfortunately, more sloppiness at the back meant they couldn’t manage that. Gill’s terrible pass out from the back (or attempted clearance, it was hard to tell) gave Philliskirk the ball once again, the Chelsea captain again having an age to pick a pass. He found Nouble on the edge of the box, who needed no invitation to unleash a venomous left-footed drive that gave Gary Woods no chance.
Two moments of slack concentration and the young Reds had well and truly had the wind taken from their sails. Premier League teams would struggle to get their heads around such a turnaround, let alone a team of under-18s, most of whom were playing in a stadium like Old Trafford for the first time, and that showed in the way United started the second half. The players looked shell-shocked, the confidence that had flowed throughout the team for the first forty minutes seemingly (and understandably) having completely drained away.
Gradually, the Reds started to adjust to the task that now faced them and began to once more pose a threat to the Chelsea goal. A brilliantly incisive move involving Welbeck, Macheda and Morrison saw James force a terrific double save from Heimann, while a terrific piece of individual skill from Welbeck was sadly not quite match by his chipped finish as Heimann dived at his feet. The Reds seemed to be edging closer and closer towards a deserved equaliser, which made the third Chelsea goal all the harder to take.
It came, somewhat predictably, on the counter-attack, Jacob Mellis finding space down the right. His first attempt at a cross was blocked, his second was even worse but Dudgeon’s attempted clearance was weak and fell to Borini just outside the box. Momentary hesitation from all red-shirted players in the vicinity inexplicably followed, allowing Borini to fire across goal into the far corner with Woods completely unsighted.
That was the game as good as over. Two goals in six minutes plus stoppages was of course doable, but Borini’s goal was a hammer blow. Credit to the Reds, they kept on trying – substitutes Petrucci and Ajose (on for Norwood and Macheda) looked particularly full of running, the former going close with a speculative effort. All Chelsea had to do was avoid any calamities and see out the game, but with the clock approaching the end of the ninety minutes, Blues defender Jeffrey Bruma suffered a lapse of his own that breathed some life back into the contest.
Ajose latched onto Petrucci’s inch-perfect pass, tore past Rohan Ince on the left-wing before checking back inside and firing across what looked to be a fairly tame centre. Bruma proceeded to slice it horrifically when attempting to clear, presenting Welbeck with the opportunity to volley home the loose ball and give United a glimmer of hope.
Alas, it was to be just a glimmer, Chelsea doing very well to either keep possession or win set pieces deep in United territory, far away from where United desperately needed the ball to be. The three minutes of stoppage time seemed to race by as red shirted players frantically tried to get hold of the ball, the full-time whistle typically going just as a break looked on. It just wasn’t to be.
1. Gary Woods
2. Ryan Tunnicliffe
3. Joe Dudgeon
4. Scott Wootton
5. Oliver Gill
6. Matt James
7. Ra’vel Morrison
8. Oliver Norwood (14. Davide Petrucci 73)
9. Kiko Macheda (16. Nicky Ajose 82)
10. Danny Welbeck
11. Robbie Brady (15. Cameron Stewart 33)
Subs not used
12. Kenny Strickland
13. Conor Devlin