September in Review: Eikrem takes Player of the Month honours
Posted by nickogs20 on October 5, 2010
It’s been another impressive month for United’s youngsters across all levels, leaving us with a tough decision when picking September’s star man. While a couple of players have made compelling cases with their goalscoring exploits, we’ve gone for a man who’s predominantly a creator – the reserves’ captain and playmaking midfield maestro Magnus Eikrem.
The Norwegian did find the net in the second string’s final game of the month, grabbing his side a deserved point away at Blackburn, but caught the eye most with his creativity. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Eikrem played a part in every goal the reserves scored in September (and there were a fair few) – in addition to the one he scored himself, the 20 year-old also directly set up three and played a key role in the creation of five more.
Eikrem was arguably a man of the match candidate in every game he played, but his performance in the Manchester Senior Cup tie against Bolton was particularly outstanding, Nick Ajose the main beneficiary as Eikrem laid on the second and third installments of his hattrick before having a hand in John Cofie’s late strike for good measure. The only sour note from an impressive month was that a first team debut wasn’t forthcoming, despite being selected as a substitute for the Carling Cup tie at Scunthorpe where the Reds took a commanding lead and had a substitution to spare. Hopefully this month’s fourth round clash with Wolves will provide a chance to rectify that.
We’ve already mentioned Nick Ajose’s hattrick against Bolton, so it won’t be too much of a surprise to say that he was a strong contender for the award. The 18 year-old impressed throughout pre-season and has carried that form into competitive action, netting five times last month to fire his way to the top of the reserves goalscoring charts. His treble against the Trotters was a brilliant display of instinctive finishing and likely played a part in securing his loan move to Bury four days later, where he immediately impressed with a pair of assists at Morecambe last week.
Similarly prolific in September was John Cofie, who would have won our August award if we hadn’t been too busy to choose one and wasn’t far away this time either. The big Ghana-born forward has taken a huge step forward this season and these days it’s something of a shock if he gets through a game without finding the net. Picking up where he left off with seven goals at the Milk Cup and two in the first two academy games of the season, Cofie grabbed another six last month, most impressively notching half of those at reserve level, where he’s becoming an increasingly useful option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Honourable mentions go to Ryan Tunnicliffe, who had a consistently excellent month and was magnificent in the U18s’ draw away at Manchester City, and Tom Thorpe, who has led Paul McGuinness’ academy side with distinction and barely put a foot wrong at the back.
The second string played six games in September, winning four, drawing one and losing one. The four wins all came in cup competitions, with Oldham, Stockport and Bolton being beaten in the Manchester Senior Cup (to add to the win over City in August, giving the Reds a 100% record so far) and Bury on the receiving end of a Lancashire Senior Cup thrashing at Gigg Lane.
The month started with a tight 2-1 MSC win over Oldham at Stalybridge, where a United side featuring Rio Ferdinand fought back from a goal down to take the points with strikes from Ajose and Kiko Macheda, the latter’s a terrific left-footed drive from the edge of the box. A more straightforward 2-0 victory over Stockport followed, the goals coming from academy duo Cofie and Will Keane, before Solskjaer’s men were brought back down to earth with a sizeable bump by a Moss Lane hammering from Aston Villa. A fine hattrick from the Villans’ Barry Bannan led his side to a 4-1 win, certainly not the result the Reds were looking for to start their league campaign.
Things got back on track four days later with a 5-1 LSC hammering of Bury – Robbie Brady setting United going with two first half goals – before they dished out another thrashing when Bolton came to Moss Lane, Ajose’s hattrick the main story as we’ve already discussed. The month looked set to end on a low note and with a second straight Premier Reserve League defeat, but captain and player of the month Eikrem popped up deep into stoppage time to salvage a deserved 2-2 draw with Blackburn at Leigh and put the first point on the board for the Reds.
Only four games in September for the U18s, as is typically the case at this early stage of the season. Paul McGuinness’ side entered the month unbeaten and kept that record going, although wins gave way to draws as the month progressed. The U18s had started with two wins in August and cruised to another to start the new month, beating Huddersfield Town 3-0 away from home, but those wins dried up somewhat as – almost uncannily like the first team – leads were squandered in three consecutive games. Middlesbrough pinched a draw at Carrington after falling behind to Cofie’s strike, before strong performances away at Sheffield United and Manchester City didn’t get the points they deserved due to some careless defending.
It’s been an extremely busy month for United in the loan market, with the absence of any reserve fixtures in October prompting the club to let several youngsters head out on one-month deals to get experience and match practice. Oliver Norwood (Carlisle), Ritchie de Laet (Sheffield United), Nick Ajose (Bury), Conor Devlin (Hartlepool), Reece Brown, Oliver Gill (both Bradford) and Scott Wootton (Tranmere) all joined the eight players already out on loan, taking the total number of United youngsters temporarily plying their trade elsewhere up to 15.
It was something of a frustrating month for the eight guys already out on loan, with Tom Cleverley, Danny Drinkwater, Matt James, Joshua King and Cameron Stewart all having to endure time on the sidelines due to injury. Cleverley did manage to make an impression on his debut by setting up Wigan’s equaliser against Sunderland, while Danny Welbeck and James Chester have earned very positive reviews at Sunderland and Carlisle respectively.
United entered the Carling Cup stage at the third round stage with an away tie at Scunthorpe United and Sir Alex made a predictable number of changes, although there was some disappointment at the lack of real involvement for the club’s young players. With such a large and relatively injury-free squad, giving fringe players like Michael Owen, Darron Gibson and Wes Brown took precedence over blooding some of Ole Solskjaer’s reserve starlets. Young players like Rafael, Chris Smalling, Gibson, Macheda, Javier Hernández, Gabriel Obertan and Bébé did all play a part, but they’re now all generally considered to be part of the senior squad. There were deserved spots on the bench for Magnus Eikrem and Corry Evans, but despite the one-sided nature of the game (United led 4-1 with plenty of time to go) and one substitution going unused, neither made it onto the field for the first team debuts. Hopefully the fourth round home tie with Wolves will be their big moment.
Elsewhere, Nick Ajose was handed shirt number 38 and travelled with the squad to Bury, and may be another with an eye on that Wolves game. Will Keane was also handed a squad number – 48 – although thus far only as part of the Reds’ Champions League squad.
The month started in fantastic style for Corry Evans, the reserves midfielder scoring the winner for Northern Ireland in their first Euro 2012 qualifying match away to Slovenia, who were coming off the back of an appearance at the World Cup in South Africa. The 20 year-old had only been on the pitch for a matter of minutes before popping up at the back post to convert former Red Craig Cathcart’s cross and notch his first international goal.
Qualifying for next year’s UEFA U17 European Championships got underway in September, with mixed fortunes for the two young Reds to have been involved so far. Goalkeeper Joe Coll – who has impressed in his appearances for the academy so far – started for the Republic of Ireland as they progressed to the elite stage with a game to spare, but Tom Lawrence and his Wales team-mates suffered three defeats and ended up bottom of their qualifying group. England, France, Netherlands, Italy and Northern Ireland all start campaigns in October, so there should be plenty more United involvement.
The Euro Under 19 qualifiers also got underway at the tail end of the month, with Etzaz Hussain’s Norway sneaking through their group in second place after edging out Scotland on head-to-head record (technically that group concluded in October). With the qualifying schedule really getting going this month, we can expect a much lengthier round-up in about four weeks time.
Goal of the Month
Honourable mentions to Larnell Cole’s perfectly precise free-kick against Sheffield United U18s, Nick Ajose’s first goal against Bolton Reserves (a brilliant curled finish after receiving Corry Evans’ pass) and Ryan Tunnicliffe’s one-two with Eikrem and clever lobbed finish against Bury Reserves. The winner though is Federico Macheda‘s vicious left-footed strike against Oldham Reserves – the Italian received the ball some 35 yards from goal, advanced towards his target and shifted it onto his weaker left foot before lashing a stunning drive past Latics keeper Ollerenshaw.
Right, we’ve had our say, time to have yours. Magnus Eikrem’s our choice for player of the month, but with a number of strong candidates, we’d like to get the view of a wider range of supporters. Please take time to place your vote in the poll below, either for one of the players we’ve picked out or for someone else, and we’d love to hear your reasons in the comments section, as well as any other views on goal of the month or September’s action as a whole.