By Bryan Waters.
Despite coming from behind twice in the game, Manchester United’s U18s still tasted a 4-2 defeat in a pulsating encounter against Southampton’s U18s.
United had Norwegian under 21 international Mats Daehli back available in their starting line-up, replacing Jack Rudge, and that was the only change made from last week’s 1-0 victory over Reading.
Southampton took the lead after 90 seconds. Ariyibi ‘s cross from the right was volleyed home by midfielder Jake Flannigan to make a miserable start for United. Paul McGuinness’ side made amends three minutes later with an easy-tap in from Josh Harrop after Jack Barmby’s strike was well saved by the Southampton goalkeeper, in what was an exciting start at Staplewood. The home side kept pressing United’s backline and Pierluigi Gollini had to tip a Southampton header over the bar with 15 minutes gone.
Southampton kept pressing United and had the ball in the net after 29 minutes from McCarthy, but it was disallowed following a foul by Saints centre-back Mugabi on Pat McNair. Two quick chances fell for United half an hour into the game. Harrop’s scuffed effort was an easy save for Saints goalkeeper Johns and Barmby, despite rounding the goalkeeper, took his touch just too wide and could not squeeze the ball home from a very tight angle.
The first chance of the second half came from the dangerous Ariyibi, who burst away from three United defenders and stung the palms of Gollini. Southampton re-asserted their dominance from the first half and United struggled with a dry pitch that did not suit their style.
Good link-up play between substitute Sam Byrne, who replaced Harrop, and James Weir allowed Barmby to curl a left-footed effort at goal, but it didn’t threaten the Saints goalkeeper. With 20 minutes to go, Byrne came close to giving United the lead. The striker smashed an effort from roughly 25 yards with the outside of his right foot and it dipped away from Johns, but the hit smashed into the crossbar.
Southampton’s pressure finally told and it was a rare mistake from Gollini. His attempted claim from a cross into the box by Wood was dropped to the feet of Saints striker Sam McQueen, who coolly struck home with his left-foot on the half volley. United nearly fired home an instant reply through Ben Pearson after great work from Barmby, but his drive was straight at the goalkeeper.
United never gave up and went ahead through James Weir. Good work from Daehli down the left found Pereira, who laid it back for a lovely drive home by Weir. However, almost immediately, Southampton went down the other end and a lovely touch and finish from Seager saw the home side take the lead for the third and final time in the game.
Southampton substitute Sam Gallagher clinched victory with a tidy finish in injury time. It was a disappointing defensive performance from McGuinness’ side, conceding sloppy goals, and United will look to make amends at home to Crystal Palace next Saturday.
Southampton U18s starting XI: Johns, Leggett, Mugabi, McCarthy, Wood. Flannigan, Gape, Reed. Ariyibi, Seager, McQueen.
Man United U18s starting XI: Pierluigi Gollini, Donald Love, Liam Grimshaw, Pat McNair, Callum Evans (Ashley Fletcher 82). James Weir, Ben Pearson, Mats Daehli, Josh Harrop (Sam Byrne 56). Andreas Pereira, Jack Barmby.