U18s: United 1 Portsmouth 2 – Pompey pinch the points on opening day
Posted by nickogs20 on August 20, 2011
Saturday August 20th, 11am
Trafford Training Centre, Carrington
|Manchester United U18s||1-2||Portsmouth U18s|
|Lawrence 89||Colson 22|
United’s new-look academy side fell to an unfortunate opening day defeat at Carrington as an oft-outplayed Portsmouth took all three points in smash and grab fashion.
Paul McGuinness’ team offered glimpses of a potentially promising future throughout but were undone by a glaring lack of cutting edge and some naive defending, the visitors netting twice against the run of play to leave the Reds too much to do, Tom Lawrence’s late strike ultimately proving to be in vain.
With the majority of last season’s Youth Cup winning side graduating to the reserve setup, McGuinness’ starting XI had a very fresh, inexperienced look to it. Left-back Tyler Blackett saw regular action last year, as did Tom Lawrence and Gyliano van Velzen, two-thirds of a fluid front three, but the remainder of the side had just 40 appearances at Under-18 level between them. Skipper Luke McCullough and fellow second-year Luke Hendrie joined Blackett in the back four after experiencing seriously injury-hit debut campaigns (the same could be said of goalkeeper Liam Jacob), new scholar Matt Wilkinson filling the other defensive berth. The all first-year trio of Mats Dæhli, Jack Rudge and Joe Rothwell formed the midfield, with Lawrence and van Velzen being joined by another new-boy, Jack Barmby, in the forward line.
The young Reds started well in perfect conditions, making the most of the pristine Carrington turf to move the ball quickly and imaginatively, if perhaps not as incisively as they’d have liked. The first sight of goal for the home side came when Rudge fired over from the edge of the box, and that would prove to be a sign of things to come as United struggled to convert their dominance of possession into genuine goalscoring chances.
Almost inevitably, Portsmouth managed to do that with pretty much their first attack and took a shock lead through George Colson, who was allowed to run unchallenged to the edge of the United box before finding the corner with a low strike that, while well-placed, could possibly have been dealt with better by Jacob, who reacted to the shot in a manner similar to that of David de Gea for Edin Dzeko’s strike in the Community Shield a fortnight ago.
Undeterred, United’s new breed continued in much the same vein, the imposing McCullough starting moves from the back and the front six almost displaying some Barcelona-esque tiki-taka, the final ball sadly just lacking. With the front three all showing a desire to cut inside or drop deep, the edge of the Pompey box became seriously crowded and a repeated area of frustration for those in red shirts as slick, promising moves were snuffed out by sheer weight of numbers and lack of options out wide or in behind.
Dæhli should have done better with his left-footed effort after fashioning a great chance for himself with the aid of Rothwell, and a low Barmby cross caused panic in the six-yard box of Pompey keeper Matt Gledhill, but a Rothwell shot from range that drifted harmlessly over just before the half-time whistle encapsulated a frustrating first 45 for McGuinness’ youngsters.
The second half continued in similar vein, United well on top but with the added frustration of a series of injuries disrupting their play and Lawrence (rightly) having a fine goal ruled out for a trip on a defender. One of those injuries forced McGuinness – without a defender on the bench – to replace the stricken Wilkinson with debutant midfielder James Weir, and as the back-line underwent some serious reorganisation, Portsmouth took advantage. A dangerous left-wing freekick was curled into the near post where the unmarked Alex Grant dispatched a free header past Jacob, whose misjudged attempt to claim the set-piece had left him in no-mans land.
Having struggled to break down the massed ranks of Portsmouth’s defence all game, things were never going to get any easier with the visitors having a 2-0 lead to sit on, but United’s youngsters weren’t going to go down without a fight – new breed perhaps but same old mentality and spirit. The last ten minutes saw the Reds’ most concerted period of pressure, Dæhli and Van Velzen narrowly failing to bundle the ball over the line after Gledhill went AWOL, and Barmby only managing to find the Irish U19 keeper’s midriff after terrific work from Lawrence.
Then, as the game moved into its final minute, the latter finally came up with the goal the Reds’ play had merited. Dæhli did superbly to create space on the left and allow Rothwell to pick out Lawrence 18 yards out, the Welsh teenager sidefooting adroitly past Gledhill. Game on? Not quite, although the spate of second half injuries did offer a few more minutes in which to hunt an equaliser, Barmby coming closest with practically the last kick of the game as his fierce low strike deflected across the face of the goal and – unfortunately for United – away to safety as the final whistle sounded.
Not the result McGuinness and his young charges will have been hoping to start the new season with but it’s performances and development that count as this level and, on that score, there was plenty to be encouraged by. A technically-gifted but generally small, slight and inexperienced group, there will inevitably be some tough days ahead over the next few months, but it’s over the next few years and beyond that we’ll see the best of these kids, so patience will be required and rewarded.
Captain Luke McCullough was perhaps the standout performer in a red shirt, with Mats Dæhli, Joe Rothwell and Tom Lawrence all being worthy of honourable mentions. A trip to face the productive Southampton academy is next on the agenda for the U18s in a week’s time.
1. Liam Jacob
2. Luke Hendrie
3. Tyler Blackett
4. Matthew Wilkinson (14. James Weir 67)
5. Luke McCullough (c)
6. Jack Rudge
7. Mats Møller Dæhli
8. Joe Rothwell
9. Jack Barmby
10. Tom Lawrence
11. Gyliano van Velzen
Subs not used
12. Ben Pearson
13. Joe Coll
15. Kenji Gorré
Referee: D Costello
Portsmouth U18s: Gledhill, Tallack, Butler, Stockford, Webster, Grant, Wheeler, Colson, Maloney, Awford, Higgins.
Subs: Vine, Branford, Warren, Harris, Fitz-Harris.