Manchester United U18’s claimed a dramatic 3-2 victory over local rivals Blackburn Rovers thanks to an injury time penalty from Will Keane in what was a thoroughly enjoyable game.
Blackburn confident after recent results (three victories in their previous four fixtures) started brightly as United had to endure early pressure. Unfortunately with only three minutes on the clock Paul McGuiness’ side conceded. From a long throw (on the right hand side) the ball was flicked on at the near post towards Jamie MacLaren – the young Australian gathered the ball, turned quickly and fired in a sharp shot which perhaps caught goalkeeper Sam Johnstone unaware – the ball squeezing through the young Englishman’s efforts allowing MacLaren to net his third goal of the campaign.
The early goal was of a setback for United – the U18’s struggled to impose themselves and lacked rhythm in their play. United’s first real effort on goal came after twelve minutes – Keane was unable to direct a header from a driven cross by Larnell Cole. However, Blackburn continued to push forward with the dangerous MacLaren having two further efforts – the first tested Johnstone and after a quick counter attack including first time passing the forward curled an effort just wide.
Blackburn were looking the most likely, but somewhat against the run of play Ravel Morrison brought the scores level. Paul Pogba making his second start of the season after a long injury lay off was heavily involved in the build up – the young Frenchman illustrated good close control while three or four Blackburn players were snapping at his heals. In the same attacking movement Morrison played a one two with Cole and from outside the penalty area fired a low deflected shot past goalkeeper Matthew Urwin.
The game entered a phase of end to end football with both teams enjoying efforts on goal. MacLaren missed a guilt edged opportunity from eight yards out, a minute later John Cofie poorly headed wide after United regained possession following a superb tackle by Ryan Tunnicliffe. Cole came within inches of scoring his third goal of the season and Cofie had a shot deflected marginally wide after a superb 50-60 yard run individual run. Moments before half time United perhaps should have been awarded their first penalty of game after a rash tackle on Morrison. After a surging run on the left wing the midfielder was perhaps too honest for his own good and remained on his feet – he was unbalanced in his attempt to cross the ball allowing Urwin to comfortably gather the ball. Should he be applauded for remaining on his feet? If Morrison had gone to ground the referee could easily have awarded a penalty. That pretty much brought to an end a cracking first half, perhaps not the best defending you’ll ever see, but enjoyable.
United started the second half on the front foot without really testing Urwin. Ten minutes into the half Blackburn began to edge their way back into the game and regained the lead on fifty five minutes. United were very much part of their own downfall – poor control from Captain Tom Thorpe inside his own penalty gifted the ball to MacLaren. The young striker was not shy in taking a pop at goal – the effort bringing a fine save from Johnstone. From the resultant corner, Anthony O’Connor scored with an unchallenged header from only six yards out.
United looked to respond with the quiet Keane failing to convert a one-on-one opportunity and despite a good spring from Cofie he was unable to direct the attempt on target. Blackburn could and perhaps should have sealed the victory when John Todd found himself alone inside the penalty but he could only spurn the chance. On seventy five minutes Pogba made Todd pay for the miss by scoring his second goal since his return. Blackburn will be kicking themselves – poor defending allowed Cofie to gain possession – he slid a pass inside the penalty area to the unmarked Pogba who, clinically finished with a powerful side footed effort – Urwin had no chance. Encouraged by the equaliser United continued to surge forward. After good play form Pogba and Keane, substitute Jesse Lingard miss hit a shot wide.
On 88 minutes United had a stone wall penalty turned down when Cofie was hacked down inside the penalty area. Even without the luxury of a replay the foul was obvious to all and sundry – even the assistant referee flagged for the offence. Blackburn responded and came close following a further free header via corner. Johnstone blocked the effort on the goal line – a mass scramble ensued with United eventually clearing their lines.
Late late into the game – four minutes in injury time in fact, United were finally awarded a penalty on the third time of asking. Following a corner from Lingard, the ball arrived to Michele Fornasier on the edge of the penalty area. Fornasier volleyed towards goal but his effort was blocked via the arm of a Blackburn defender and perhaps harshly the referee awarded the penalty. Of the three penalty shouts this was arguably the least convincing. Ice cool Keane slotted home the penalty to seal the victory when a draw would have been the fair result.
Man of the Match: Pogba was the standout player and an imposing figure – his ball control was superb and passing ability was impressive.
Team: Johnstone; Massacci, Thorpe, Fornasier, Blackett; Tunnicliffe, Pogba, Morrison, Cole (Lingard 77 minutes); Cofie, Keane.