By Barry McEvoy.
Paul McGuinness and his Manchester United side may be feeling hard done by this evening as they were defeated by two goals to one against Portsmouth at Carrington in the first game of the season. Despite being the better side for long periods of the game United couldn’t find the net with numerous chances. They lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Jack Barmby, Tom Lawrence and Gyliano van Velzen rotating in the front three positions. Mats Daehli, Jack Rudge and Joe Rothwell shard the responsibilities in midfield. Liam Jacob played in goals and hid line of protection consisted of Hendrie, Wilkinson, McCullough and Tyler Blackett.
United were much the better side in the first half, enjoying great success down the wings, van Velzen and Barmby linked up particularly well on the left wing on numerous occasions. Some very good chances fell to Lawrence, Daehli and Rothwell, but they all failed to find the back of the net with tame shots. The Reds were left to rue those chances as George Colson put Portsmouth in front with a good strike into the corner of Jacob’s goal leaving the Australian with little chance of stopping it. As the first half drew to a close the hosts had a couple of chances, particularly Barmby who forced a good save from the Pompey ‘keeper.
The second half never really got into much of a rhythm due to stoppages and injuries for both sides, including United defender Matt Wilkinson who was eventually forced to come off for Weir. United’s dominance continued, however, and Lawrence eventually put the ball in the net, but it was ruled out correctly for a push. Barmby had another excellent chance after some very good play between himself and Lawrence on the edge of the area but he shot straight at the ‘keeper. The story of Jack Barmby’s day, had a good game, but ultimately failed to convert opportunities.
United were hit for a second goal when Jacob attempted to intercept a free-kick, but was easily beaten in the air by Alexander Grant who was left to head the ball into an empty net. Quite a bad mistake from the inexperienced ‘keeper, but hopefully he’ll learn from it. Portsmouth began to sit back after their second goal and allowed United to apply more pressure which eventually led to a goal from Tom Lawrence from 10 yards out. Mats Daehli did brilliantly well inside the box to shield it from the defenders and lay it off to Rothwell who teed it up for Lawrence to score. This visibly invigorated the home side and they pushed on in an attempt to find a second, but they were beaten by the clock and Portsmouth left the victors.
Whilst it was a disappointing result to an otherwise good performance, it is important to remember that at this level it’s not all about winning. This is a very technically good bunch of youngsters and I would rather see them play nice football and use their brains, despite losing a few games, rather than lump it up to the strikers and win every game. A proper striker wouldn’t be a bad thing, though as that’s what was missing today with van Velzen, Lawrence and Barmby up front. All three were more inclined to come deep and look for the ball rather than being in the box to get on the end of crosses. A Will Keane kind of player is what’s needed for the side. The performance has given me hope for this team, though, and I look forward to their games as they’re very nice to watch.