By Bryan Waters.
Manchester United U21s kept their fourth successive clean sheet, but failed to find three points in a frustrating fixture against Wolverhampton Wanderers. The visitors kept things tight at Moss Lane after going down to ten men and spent 80 minutes keeping a strong United side, including Chris Smalling, at bay.
Zeli Ismail, who had made a fantastic start to the game for Wolves, handed United the numerical advantage when he was dismissed after 10 minutes. The winger lunged at Smalling and made no contact with the ball, leaving the United defender in a heap and the referee no choice but to issue the red card. Warren Joyce’s side began to see much more of the ball and kept possession well on a slippery surface after a day of snow in Manchester.
Wolves stayed strong in defence throughout the first half as United kept the ball well outside the box, but could not find the final penetrative ball. Frederic Veseli’s defensive role in central midfield allowed Anderson and young Belgian Adnan Januzaj to create for United, yet the final ball, particularly from Anderson, was short of the mark. Nick Powell and Jesse Lingard had half-chances for United and a great chance fell for winger Larnell Cole after the ball ricocheted out to the edge of the box from a corner, but his volley was sliced well wide of the Wolves goal.
The final chance, and best chance, of the first half came right on the whistle after lovely build-up play between Lingard and Alex Buttner. Lingard’s through ball was delightfully flicked by Powell into the path of Anderson six yards out, but the Brazilian dragged his strike wide inexplicably.
Into the second half and Wolves’ defensive stance maintained with United creating few chances. Buttner’s fantastic skill down the left side saw him cut the ball back to Lingard, but the young winger could not keep his strike down and it sailed over the bar. United continued to press, with Anderson continuing to pull the strings, but Cotman in the Wolves goal was rarely tested.
Wolves’ first chance of their game was threatening as left-back Cranston fired a cross into the area. Only a brilliant defensive touch from Chris Smalling stopped Wolves striker McAlinden from planting a free header past United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and giving the away side a lead.
With seven minutes remaining, United should have won the game at the feet of Cole. Lovely passing between Powell and substitute Tom Lawrence set Cole on goal and his strike went agonisingly wide, when it looked easier to score. That chance was the final one of the game, as Wolves held out to earn a valuable point and leave United five points behind leaders Tottenham in the league table.
Man of the match: Chris Smalling – The England international recovered from a poor early challenge to get back on the field and marshal the backline, stopping any brief Wolves ventures towards goal.
United XI: Johnstone, Vermijl, Smalling, Thorpe, Buttner; Cole, Veseli, Anderson, Lingard; Januzaj (Lawrence 60), Powell. (Subs: Gollini, McGinty, Blackett, Ekangamene.)
Wolves XI: Cotman, Whittall, Tank, Ihieke, Cranston, Ismail, Price, Jakobsson, Forde, McAlinden, Winnall. (Subs: Flatt, Parry, Iorfa, Moli, Kellerman)
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