By Barry McEvoy
The final fence left for Manchester United U-18s was John Pemberton’s Sheffield United u18 side. Few fans would have expected the young Blades to reach the latter stages of this years competition so to see them facing United in the final is a real shock. A huge crowd of almost 30,000 spilled into Bramall Lane to watch the stars of the future, although five Sheffield United players have made an appearance for the first team during the season. The crowd shattered the record home attendance at Bramall Lane wich previously stood at 23,000, perhaps reflecting the performances of the first team this season. The crowd were surely entertained with the end to end football on show, with Blades fans probably happier with the result!
United started out on the front foot, getting forward and pressuring the Yorkshire men in their own half. Lingard and Michael Keane immediately linked up on the right wing and forced a free-kick after Keane was hacked down. Long calmed things down a bit for Pemberton’s side when he came out and plucked the ball out of the air from a corner taken by Lingard. Morrison began taking the ball and running at the defence, which had continued success throughout the game as the Blades defence backed off him. He had a number of long shots, threatening the ‘keeper on a couple of occasions over the course of the match.
Morrison and Sean McGinty connected well on the wing and McGinty put in a teasing cross towards Paul Pogba who chested it down for Lingard to have a shot, but Barry got in the way and cleared it. His clearance wasn’t the most convincing and Michael Keane pressured the defence into making a mistake and the ball fell to Pogba who played a little one-two with Ryan Tunnicliffe before sending the ball over Lingard’s head to get a foot on it. He didn’t get the best of touches on it and the ball bounced off Long towards the goal, despite Maguire’s attempt to stop the ball crossing the line, which he did illegally by handling the ball it was given as a goal by the linesman. It was a brave(and wrong) decision and it incensed the home crowd, but it was given. SUFC 0-1 MUFC. Lingard 14′.
Morrison did go close once after one of his many runs ended up in the box, he tried to slide the ball underneath the ‘keeper but Maguire was waiting on the line to clear it, which he managed to do within the rules this time. United took the foot off the pedal somewhat and Sheffield United got some players forward, with Tom Thorpe doing well to clear on a number of occasions, including a clearance off the line after Whitehouse met McFadzean’s corner with a powerful header. The two Blades midfielders teamed up again, this time Whitehouse the provider with a pass to McFadzean and he smashed the ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards out. Perhaps catching Johnstone on his heels. SUFC 1-1 MUFC. McFadzean 45′.
Sheffield United started the second half strongly with Whitehouse going close again after some very clever wing-play from Slew resulted in him getting in a cross to Gregory who headered it down for his captain to get a shot on, but it was met by Michele Fornasier on the line who cleared it. The twins had some decent interplay for United as Will made a opening for Michael Keane to have a long-range effort. A few minutes later Will put the ball in the net, but the linesman correctly called Pogba offside who excellently flicked the ball back for Keane to put it in. Pogba and Lingard were both involved in Man Utd’s second goal as the French midfielder played a ball over the top to Lingard and he got a foot on it to send the ball across the six-yard box, where it was met by the boot of Will Keane. That was his 21st goal this season. Great record. SUFC 1-2 MUFC. Keane 70′.
United’s happiness was short lived, however as Ironside flicked the ball on for Slew to meet it just yards outside the United’s eighteen yard line. The young striker, who has become a fan favourite as Bramall Lane, took a shot that took a wild deflection off United captain Thorpe and it looped wildly over Sam jonhstone. It was a huge slice of luck, but you can’t say it was completely undeserved. SUFC 2-2 MUFC. Slew 73.
The game petered out somewhat towards the end with the only action being yet another Ravel Morrison run through the Blades defence. He may have overrun it a little, despite having Keane and Cofie to his right, but he felt aggrieved that he wasn’t given a penalty for what he felt was an unfair challenge in the box by Harriott. 2-2 was probably about the right result, with both teams coming close on a number of occasions only to have the ball cleared off the line. Morrison was a constant danger(as always) and Pogba did well in his role as the creator. Jesse Lingard also had a very good game in my opinion, he was a thorn in the side of the Blades defence for the whole game. The second leg is set up to be a potential cracker at Old Trafford, and if there’s as big a crowd as there was at Bramall Lane it could be a great occasion for Paul McGuinness’s young United side.
MUFC: Sam Johnstone; Michael Keane, Tom Thorpe, Michele Fornasier, Sean McGinty; Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Gylanio Van Velzen(Cofie 85′); Ravel Morrison, Will Keane.
Subs: Massacci, Coll, Cofie(85′), Fryers, Lawrence.
SUFC: Long, Montgomery, Maguire(86′), Kennedy, Barry; Gregory(Wilkinson 72′), Harriott, Whitehouse, McFadzean; Slew, Ironside(Martin 74′).
Subs: Pomares(86′), Willis, Wilkinson(72′), Martin(74′), Ahmadi.