Tuesday, 11 April 2017

PL2: Leicester City 0 United 0

It's been a pretty drab season at Under 23 level, but I don't recall seeing a game quite as dull as this one.  Neither keeper was meaningfully tested throughout a game that saw both sides come away with a point that, given other results, probably suited both teams in their efforts to fight relegation.

United probably just about edged a fairly uneventful first half.  Both sides lacked a creative spark and, just as Indy Boonen began to look most likely to provide one for the Reds, his Under 23 debut came to a premature close when he was forced off with an injury before the half-hour mark.

Once Boonen had left the fray, an already uneventful encounter meandered to a predictable snore-draw.  Occasionally there were attempts from both sides to rouse the slumbering King Power Stadium crowd: Dewsbury-Hall saw a shot deflected wide for Leicester while Makela hit an effort just wide in the closing stages for United.   Otherwise, stalemate prevailed.

The draw lifts United four points clear of the relegation zone.  Even if the Reds fail to win either of their remaining games, Derby and Reading will now need to win both of theirs to send them down.  Hopefully that can all be resolved when United play Spurs at Old Trafford a week on Monday, and this dismal Premier League 2 campaign can finally be brought to a close.

Monday, 6 March 2017

PL2 Sunderland 1 United 3

United's Under 23s gained a vital win in the fight against relegation with their best performance of the season at Eppleton.  This win takes Nicky Butt's side out of the relegation places and into seventh place in the twelve-team league.

Anyone unfamiliar with the Reds' second string's disappointing form of late would have been scratching their heads at their lowly position in Premier League 2 as the youngsters tore into their opponents from the off, building up a 2-0 lead before half-time that better finishing might have seen them at least double.

As it was the Reds - playing in blue - took the lead when Mitchell converted the penalty awarded after Harrop had been tripped in the area by ex-United defender Donald Love.  This was followed quickly by a deflected shot from McTominay that doubled United's lead.

United eventually gained a deserved third with nineteen minutes of the second half remaining when Redmond (above) followed up on McTominay's saved effort to score from the rebound.

Although Sunderland grabbed a late consolation in stoppage time when a free kick into the box led to Honeyman tapping home, there was nothing the Wearsiders could do to claw back the Reds' convincing lead.  

The only blemish on a fine night for United was that the free kick was awarded following a foul by Poole that brought him a second yellow.  Poole was making his return from a suspension during which his presence was much-missed and Nicky Butt will be disappointed that he'll lose the Welshman again for what was an unnecessary challenge with the game already long won.

Monday, 20 February 2017

PL2 United 0 Reading 2

This capitulation against Reading leaves United in serious danger of relegation from Premier League 2.  Once again, the Reds were outplayed by rivals who were hard-working and well-organised but otherwise unspectacular, to extend a dismal run of home form that now leaves them dangerously close to the two relegation places.

In the season-long absence of a genuine forward, this time it was Callum Gribbin who led the attack.  Gribbin is a talented prospect but his failure to capitalise on two chances in the first half illustrated a familiar problem for United.  First, he neglected to shoot when presented with a sight of goal, allowing the Reading defence to get back into position and then, finding himself through with only the keeper to beat, he once again failed to get a shot away.

Aside from these chances, Reading very much had the upper hand and it was no surprise when they took the lead, Osho rising to head home convincingly.  But for a fine save from O'Hara, it might easily have been two before half-time, but Reading eventually added to their lead in the second half.  Once again a failure to deal with an aerial ball following a corner that allowed Smith to rise and head well beyond O'Hara's reach.

The nature of the goals conceded show that United's problem at this level isn't solely due to the lack of an established front man.  With Poole and Williams unavailable, a defence that kept the Reds safe in mid-table for much of the season now looks consistently vulnerable.  Axel Tuanzebe, while undoubtedly a fine prospect, now appears far less secure with midfielder Scott forced to take up defensive duties alongside him.

Yet the lack of that forward presence is undoubtedly a large part of the reason why United now stare the unthinkable possibility of relegation in the face.  Late in the game, Harrop floated a fine delivery into the box only for no team mate to gamble and attack the ball.   By now Gribbin was back in his more familiar midfield position and the move brought a greater balance to the team in the later stages but by then, of course, it was too late.

Monday, 6 February 2017

PL2 Derby County 5 United 3

A disappointing season for United's Under 23s continued with this loss at bottom side Derby County.  Although a minor fightback reduced the margin of defeat, the Reds remain in unfamiliar territory in the table.  Having been champions in three of the last four years, the Reds go into the run-in with relegation still an unthinkable possibility.

It was the Reds who took the lead when Gribbin's expertly placed free kick, awarded after Mitchell had been felled following a surge down the left, beat the keeper at his near post.  For a spell it looked most likely that United would increase their lead but Babos's superb strike from the edge of the area drew Derby level and, before half-time, Elsnick rose to meet Bennett's cross from the left and put the Rams ahead.

Although United had chances, Derby approached the second half like a team determined to add to their lead and the breakthrough came when Elsnick grabbed his second thanks to a wicked deflection off Tuanzebe that saw the ball loop over O'Hara to give the keeper no chance.   

It got worse moments later when Gordon pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the area to drill the ball under O'Hara for Derby's fourth goal.  A fifth came when Elsnick capitalised on increasingly gaping holes in the United defence to lay on a simple ball for Jakobsen to score after the same player had blasted over only minutes earlier.  

The Reds made the scoreline look a little more respectable when Redmond latched onto a cross from Olosunde to strike the post before following up to score from the rebound.  With three minutes left Kehinde scored United's third after he was put through by Gribbin, whose increasing maturity on the ball was one of the few positives Nicky Butt can take out of this match.

Other than that, however, it was a pretty grim night for the Reds.  The result takes Derby off the foot of the table and leaves United only three points clear of the Premier League 2 relegation places with six games remaining.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

PL2: Liverpool 0 United 1

Following the disappointment of failing to give a clearly inferior Liverpool side the hammering they deserved on Sunday, United's Under 23s delivered in the best possible way.  Deep into stoppage time, Matthew Willock rose in the area to get his head to a Goss free kick and the Reds put some much-needed distance between themselves and those in the relegation zone by stealing a win at Anfield in the most satisfying manner possible.

It's been a disappointing Premier League 2 season for United thus far and Liverpool, riding high in the table, will surely have been favourites to win this encounter.  Had they spent less time indulging the local pastime of righteous indignation every time a decision went against them, they may well have given themselves an opportunity to do so.  

There was certainly enough of that on display when, after a non-event of a first half, United were awarded a penalty in the 75th minute of a livelier second period.  In a manner of which their senior colleagues would surely have been proud, the home players surrounded the ref, presumably in an effort to remind him of the locally uncontested view that it is impossible for anyone wearing a Liverpool shirt to do anything wrong, after Gribbin had gone down in the area under a challenge from Lewis.  

In truth, the only questionable part of the decision was that Lewis escaped with a yellow.  Their histrionics turned out to be academic anyway when Goss's penalty was well saved by George.

And that appeared to be it.  With the clock running down and 0-0 looking ever more likely, Goss seized one final opportunity to make a difference and the quality of his free kick gave Willock the simplest of chances.  he duly obliged and the Under 23s grabbed a rare, but very pleasing, three away points.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Swansea 1 United 3

And suddenly it all looked so easy.  Mourinho and the United support won't be fooled of course: this Swansea side was a pale shadow of the one that terrorised Van Gaal's United here last season.  Still, the Reds have failed to turn dominance over weaker sides into goals on several occasions this season and there will be much relief in the United ranks at the ease with which they imposed themselves on this game and took their opportunities when they came.

And they came early.  Pogba opened the scoring in the fifteenth minute with a superb long range effort before Ibrahimovic brought his barren run to a end with two first half goals.  First he drilled home from the edge of the box to double United's lead before Rooney's finely judged pass allowed the Swede to outmuscle his marker and make it three for United just after the half-way mark.

United fans were understandably concerned about the absence of Herrera due to suspension but what the Reds missed in terms of his industry they made up for through the calmness and control of Carrick, who once again made a strong case for appearing more frequently in Mourinho's starting eleven.  Although there was no question that a toothless Swansea first half display made life easy for United, the veteran midfielder certainly played a major part in that too.

There's no question that those who played further forward from him benefited from his presence.  Rooney had his best game for some time while Pogba showed the kind of cocksure self-assurance Mourinho brought him back for and was able to influence the play in a manner we've only seen fleetingly until today.

Swansea did show more ambition in the second half, and even grabbed a consolation goal when Van Der Hoorn rose to head home Sigurdsson's free kick.  It was a reminder of the kind of thing that can happen if you don't convert your chances.  Thankfully, on this occasion United did and they left the Liberty Stadium as worthy winners.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Europa League: Fenerbahce 2 United 1

We always make life difficult for ourselves, Fergie used to say.  In his day, more often than not, we fought through those self-imposed difficulties to confound rivals and media commentators alike to come out on top.  Nowadays, the difficulties just seem to lead to yet more difficulties.  Here, even a draw would have left the Reds potentially one game away from qualification from the group.  Now, it looks like it could go to the wire.

The goal that put United behind after just ninety seconds was, to put it mildly, a bit special.  With his back to goal, Sow got his foot to a left-wing cross with the kind of exquisite overhead kick that even keepers as good as De Gea can do nothing about.

Although Fenerbahce continued to carry a real threat on the break - more of which later - the Reds dominated possession for the remainder of the first half, only to see their often incisive passing play fail to yield a result.  When United carved out a real clear-cut chance, Rooney's touch let him down after being set clear by Martial.

A limping Paul Pogba left the field to add to a growing United injury list and his replacement Ibrahimovic immediately brought a fiery presence to the field, in all senses of the word.  You felt he was bound to have some sort of impact on the game.  

Sadly, he faded out of it in the second half, but no more than the rest of the United team.  If the half-time substitution that brought Mata on for Schneiderlin was intended to introduce a more attacking formation, somehow it had the reverse effect.  The Reds looked nervy and struggled to string a decent series of passes together.  Fenerbahce were set up to hit them on the break and that's exactly what they did, Ibrahimovic finally having the wrong kind of impact on the game when he committed the foul that allowed Lens to step up and score from one of the most perfect free kicks you'll ever see.

The two goals will probably give De Gea nightmares for weeks.  His team mates looked like they were in the midst of one of their own as they struggled to get any kind of hold on the game and the most likely outcome seemed to be a third for the Turks, who squandered a series of chances as they broke freely through the gaping holes in the United midfield.

Out of the blue, it was Rooney who scored with the night's third terrific goal, a stunner from outside the box.  He might even have snatched an equaliser when Ismael rose to clear with his head from just inside the post.   However, it was a late flurry rather than the sustained onslaught United had needed and the Reds stand probably only one further poor performance away from Europa League elimination.