Liverpool 1 United 3: Brilliant U18s end 2008 in style
Posted by nickogs20 on December 13, 2008
|Liverpool U18s||1-3||Manchester United U18s|
|Dalla Valle 65||–||Norwood 22|
After consecutive home defeats against Chelsea and Manchester City, United’s U18s could have been forgiven for being a tad apprehensive about having to travel to Merseyside to face a Liverpool side with a 100% home record in their last fixture before the Christmas break. As it turned out, the Reds put in their best performance of the season to comfortably dispatch their scouse rivals and finish 2008 on a high. First half strikes from Ollie Norwood and Kiko Macheda gave United a commanding half-time lead, and although Liverpool briefly rallied and pulled one back through Lauri Dalla Valle, the again-impressive Ra’vel Morrison restored the two-goal advantage and secured victory, the 3-1 scoreline seriously flattering the home side.
Following those two successive defeats, Paul McGuinness rang the changes. Conor Devlin came in for Gary Woods in goal, while the back four was rejigged with Kenny Strickland shifting to right-back and Oliver Gill dropping to the bench – in their place at the heart of the defence was a new partnership of Scott Wootton, playing his former club, and U16 captain Tom Thorpe, making his first U18 appearance. Ryan Tunnicliffe replaced Matt James in midfield (the skipper benched with Monday’s reserve game in mind), with Morrison returning to the side in place of Cameron Stewart on the right flank. The only area of the team to remain intact was the Italian attacking pairing of Macheda and Davide Petrucci.
As in last week’s defeat to City, United started well and threatened to take an early lead, but also came close to falling behind. Tunnicliffe and Petrucci both gave Liverpool keeper Bouzanis cause for concern inside the first ten minutes but the clearest opening fell to the home side, winger David Amoo somehow conspiring to hit the post from six yards out with all the time in the world to pick his spot with his volleyed effort.
That was some let-off for the Reds and they made the most of it, seizing control of the game and, crucially, getting the vital breakthrough that never came last week at Carrington. That breakthrough came in some style as well, another fantastic goal for stand-in captain Norwood, who just doesn’t score unspectacular ones. The United midfielder exchanged passes with Tunnicliffe twice, the speed and one-touch nature of the duo’s passing opening up the Liverpool midfield and presenting Norwood with the chance to strike at goal from 20 yards out. Much to the surprise of Bouzanis and most in attendance, that strike came in the form of a sublimely measured chip which wrong-footed the Aussie keeper and left him grasping at thin air.
The hosts were reeling and United sought to press home their advantage. Morrison skimmed the bar and then went even closer with a shot that rebounded off the post and somehow wasn’t put into the empty net as it travelled back across the face of goal. Macheda was presented with a glorious headed chance from a Norwood corner and could only head straight at Bouzanis, and that was the sort of opportunity you fear you might end up regretting. It only took three minutes for the Italian frontman to make sure that wasn’t the case.
Bouzanis contributed towards his side’s downfall, shanking a clearance so that it fell to the alert Petrucci thirty yards out. There was still plenty of work to do but the ensuing few seconds of play showed the Reds’ Italian duo at their absolute best, Petrucci beautifully controlling the loose ball, drawing the defender and playing the blind pass to Macheda, who had brilliantly got back onside. Kiko proceeded to fend off the attentions of the Liverpool defence and coolly slide the ball under Bouzanis’ despairing dive, giving the Reds a 2-0 lead at half-time which was the very least they deserved for their endeavours in the first 45 minutes.
The second half promised more of the same, United picking up where they left off and going for the kill. Morrison, Norwood, Macheda and Brady all tested or worried Bouzanis and it seemed that it would only be a matter of time before the decisive third goal would come, but – as so often happens in that sort of situation – it eventually came down the other end. Liverpool won a corner against the run of play, and their giant centre-half Kennedy got up well at the far post to nod down for the lurking Lauri Dalla Valle to prod home.
Game on, and you could have forgiven this young United side if the nerves had started to kick in at that point, with 25 minutes still to play. The Reds weren’t about to let such a dominant performance go to waste however, and as normal service resumed and the play remained predominantly inside the Liverpool half, it became clear that the home side’s goal was little more than a blip and that if there was to be another goal, it was far more likely to be the clincher for United than an undeserved equaliser. Cue some terrific link-up play between Norwood and Macheda and an inch-perfect throughball from the Italian which allowed Morrison to skip around Bouzanis and find the empty net, effectively sealing the win with a little over ten minutes to go.
Morrison picked up a knock in the process of scoring and was replaced by Cameron Stewart for the last ten minutes, a period which saw little real action as United contented themselves with a job well done and Liverpool had neither the means or the spirit to mount any sort of late comeback.
One of the most impressive performances from United’s academy side in recent memory, it’s hard to single out individuals as the whole team impressed. If pushed, special mention has to go to Tom Thorpe, remarkably assured on debut and clearly a player of real promise. Going forward, Macheda, Petrucci and Morrison all linked up superbly and Tunnicliffe and Norwood dominated the midfield – Robbie Brady deserves praise also for a really unsung, unselfish performance on the left wing.
All in all, a great way to finish 2008 and all the more reason to anticipate a prosperous 2009.
1. Conor Devlin
2. Kenny Strickland
3. Joe Dudgeon
4. Tom Thorpe
5. Scott Wootton
6. Oliver Norwood (c)
7. Ra’vel Morrison (14. Cameron Stewart 80)
8. Ryan Tunnicliffe
9. Federico Macheda
10. Davide Petrucci
11. Robbie Brady (12. Nicky Ajose 74)
Subs not used
15. Matt James
16. Evandro de Carvalho Brandão
17. Oliver Gill
Booked: Macheda, Norwood