Milk Cup 2009: Reds reign again in the Coleraine rain
Posted by nickogs20 on July 31, 2009
There was a distinct sense of deja vu in the air this evening as Paul McGuinness’ side took to the field for the Milk Cup final in exactly the same sort of atrocious Coleraine weather they experienced as they won the competition last season, and while there wasn’t quite the same dominant, swashbuckling performance that we witnessed 12 months ago, goals from Michael Ngoo and Etzaz Hussain ensured there was ultimately the same result – a Manchester United victory and more silverware for the Old Trafford trophy cabinet.
All the talk about opponents Sheffield United had been about how they hadn’t impressed in their semi-final penalty shootout win over FC Porto, but United weren’t about to take them lightly, the last three games between the two sides at academy level having all ended in draws. The absence of Joshua King (whose ankle injury had flared up in yesterday’s semi) and Ravel Morrison (who was serving a suspension) was another reason for caution – John Cofie and Michael Ngoo came in to replace that duo.
Anyone expecting a walkover for United will have been thinking again after an opening quarter of an hour that saw the Blades more than hold their own, although in truth both sides really struggled to assert themselves given the terrible conditions. Sheffield United had the wind at their backs in the first half and gave Sam Johnstone a couple of scares with shots from outside the box, but the England U17 keeper’s sound handling and judgement reassured his back four, and gradually the Reds started to string together the sort of passing football we know they’re capable of.
That said, when the breakthrough came after 17 minutes, it was a long pass that made the difference rather than the quick, short passing usually a hallmark of their play. Will Keane dropped deep and played a terrific long pass over the defence into the path of Ngoo, who initially failed to bring it under control. Robbie Brady was on hand to pick up the loose ball however, and when he cleverly picked out Ngoo with a precise cut-back, the big striker – on trial from Southend United – took a touch before coolly finishing with his left foot.
Confidence understandably surged through those in the red shirts, and 1-0 could easily have become 2-0 almost immediately, Will Keane first drawing a fine save from the Sheffield United keeper before then playing Ngoo in with a sublime dinked throughball that the triallist really should have done a lot better with. The Blades stuck to their task and refused to let United forget that they were in a real tussle now, but you always felt that it was going to take something special for them to turn this around.
While the lead was only 1-0 that was always a possibility of course, and as the game moved into the second half there was frustration on the Reds part that the scoreline remained that way, further chances coming and going, most notably a three-on-one breakaway where Ngoo managed to hit the only defender with his cross, with Cofie and Brady both unmarked in the area.
Nonetheless, that chance did seem to spark a period of concerted United pressure, Cofie and Brady both going close with efforts from the edge of the box, and you felt the second goal was only a matter of time. When it came, it was one from the top drawer, with Etzaz Hussain starting and finishing the move. The Norwegian midfielder picked up the ball forty yards out and found Tom Thorpe in space on the right flank. Thorpe in turn found Ngoo bursting into the box and the lanky forward produced a beautiful backheel into the path of Hussain’s run, leaving the 16 year-old with the relatively simple task of sidefooting the ball home past a wrong-footed goalkeeper.
While there was still 18 minutes remaining and there was always a chance something could happen, United letting a 2-0 lead slip from that point looked incredibly unlikely. The Blades had strung together some decent moves and worked extremely hard, but had only really threatened Johnstone’s goal with efforts from long range. The Reds lost a little bit of discipline late on (Brady and Tunnicliffe picking up bookings) and then conceded a scrappy goal from a set-piece to Kennedy in the first minute of injury time, setting up a nervy last couple of minutes, but there was to be no denying them a deserved victory, a second consecutive Premier section triumph and a fourth overall – both firsts.
As captain Brady underwent the Milk Cup ritual that sees the winning captain drenched in the aforementioned dairy product, his teammates celebrated after a terrific effort this past week, and Paul McGuinness spoke glowingly of his team, hailing their victory as a “great achievement” and picking out the second goal as an example of great football produced in entirely unhelpful conditions. As he also pointed out, many of this winning squad (including seven of the starting XI) will still be eligible next year, and three-in-a-row will now definitely be the target in 2010.
1. Sam Johnstone
2. Michael Keane
3. Zeki Fryers
4. Sean McGinty
5. Tom Thorpe
6. Ryan Tunnicliffe
8. Etzaz Hussain
10. Will Keane
11. Robbie Brady (c)
12. John Cofie
18. Michael Ngoo
Subs not used
7. Ravel Morrison (unavailable due to suspension)
9. Joshua King (unavailable due to injury)
13. James Wren
14. Larnell Cole
15. Jesse Lingard
16. Luke Giverin
17. Rico Gomes
Scorers: Ngoo 17, Hussain 52