Milk Cup 2010: Treble dreams dashed as Reds stunned by Aspire
Posted by nickogs20 on July 27, 2010
United’s bid for a third successive Milk Cup crown has ended at the group stage after Paul McGuinness’ side fell to a surprising defeat against Qatari academy Aspire.
Coming into the game on the back of an impressive opening win over County Tyrone, a draw would have been enough to send the Reds through to the quarter-finals and, after slightly shading a cagey first half, they looked in little danger of not securing the result they needed to progress. The Middle East outfit had looked threatening on the break however, and when they came out for the second half in a more attacking mindset, the United defence crumbled.
Striker Jasper Uwaegbulam had looked the Qatari’s most dangerous player in the first 45 and he almost single-handedly destroyed the Reds’ chances of a Milk Cup treble in a ten minute spell after the break. Almost from the restart a simple through ball from Swadh dissected the centre-back pairing of Thorpe and McGinty and allowed Uwaegbulam to bear down on goal, and while Liam Jacob did well to keep out the Nigerian youngster’s first effort, he was powerless to stop the rebound being netted. The Reds were still reeling from that when, barely five minutes later, some sloppy defending gifted Uwaegbulam the ball on the edge of the box, from where he found the top corner despite United’s Aussie keeper getting a despairing hand on the shot.
The defending champions still had over 25 minutes left to claw their way back into the game but lacked both urgency and ideas, particularly in wide areas where Tom Lawrence and Luke Giverin, neither natural wingers, were ineffective. Belgian forward Charni Ekangamene was brought on to replace Giverin in the hope of providing a spark with his pace and physical presence but similarly struggled to get into the game.
Aspire’s hitherto solid rearguard did start to creak slightly as the game moved towards its conclusion but it was really too little too late for United, who slightly desperately moved Sean McGinty up front as an auxiliary striker for the last few minutes. Will Keane and John Cofie, so impressive against Tyrone but completely subdued here, finally forced Aspire keeper Felagha into action, while Etzaz Hussain – perhaps the Reds’ best player on the day – was narrowly wide with a fine effort from distance. Tyler Blackett then went one better with a sensational left-footed strike from fully 35 yards which gave Felagha no chance, but by that point the game was in its third of four minutes allocated for stoppages and the goal, as good as any that will be scored all week, amounted to little more than a consolation effort.
The majority of a healthy crowd at the Showgrounds in Coleraine went home somewhat disappointed, although they were warm in their appreciation of the efforts of an impressive Aspire side who were well-drilled, physically imposing and technically adept. In contrast United were alarmingly lacklustre, perhaps a little complacent after the club’s recent imperious record in the competition, and while it should always be remembered that results are far from the be-all and end-all at academy level, Paul McGuinness will surely be disappointed at the tame way his charges surrendered their crown.
United ultimately finished 5th in Group A, agonisingly close to a top four berth that would have kept them in contention for three-in-a-row. As it is, the Reds will now go into the secondary Slemish Trophy competition along with the other teams finishing between 5th and 8th place in the groups, and will meet County Down in their quarter-final at the Warren in Portstewart tomorrow at 3.30pm. While very much a consolation prize, the competition does now perhaps offer McGuinness the opportunity to rotate and experiment a little more than he otherwise would have done with a meaningful trophy on the line – certainly we can expect to see more from the likes of Ekangamene and schoolboy winger Jack Barmby over the next few days. Unfortunately, with coverage understandably focusing on the main event, United’s progress may now be difficult to follow.
1. Liam Jacob
3. Luke Giverin (16. Charni Ekangamene)
5. Sean McGinty
6. Tom Thorpe (c)
7. Tom Lawrence
8. Larnell Cole
9. John Cofie
10. Will Keane
11. Etzaz Hussain
12. Michael Keane
17. Tyler Blackett
Subs Not Used
2. Bradley Anderson
4. Michele Fornasier
13. Joe Coll
14. Jack Barmby
15. Donald Love
18. Luke Hendrie