Four defeats on the spin, and beaten by two of our closest rivals along the way might suggest it’s time for the Academy to panic, but hold on, not so fast. There were many positives on Friday and the 2-1 defeat away to Liverpool in no way tells the whole story of this competitive, exciting Academy match that could’ve gone either way.
Put bluntly the game was decided by an error from United’s young Australian keeper Liam Jacob but there’s so much more to it than that.
Liverpool got off to a flyer taking the lead in just the third minute thanks to an Adam Morgan header. Morgan, Liverpools highly impressive top goalscorer from last season, was obviously Liverpool’s main danger today but was inexcusably unmarked at the front post after United failed to regroup and prevent a cross coming in after clearing a corner.
United were under pressure for most of the first half and struggled to make inroads into the final third. They kept the ball well and had some terrific spells of possession but couldn’t quite convert that into chances.
Sam Byrne and Declan Dalley were away on International duty. Replacing Dalley was a straightforward decision for manager McGuiness with captain Luke McCullough fit enough to slot back into his usual role at centre back after recovering from his nasty eye injury. Tyler played alongside Luke and Charni Ekangamene maintained his role from last week at leftback.
On 37 minutes a defensive calamity ensued and United were two-down.
Blackett and Ekangamene were found square and out of position which gifted Morgan the gap to put Peterson in space down their right, he crossed an aimless air ball into the box and Jacob came out to clear it but he flapped at it and, possibly hindered by McCullough and Hendrie, completely missed the ball allowing Matty Regan an easy header from six yards.
In the second half there were few chances for either side and the game swung from side-to-side with both teams enjoying spells of pressure. Looking at the facts of the game it would be fair to suggest Liverpool had the better of it. United looked more technically well educated than their counterparts but lacked that cutting edge in the final third to create opportunities. Jacob was forced into three late saves but apart from that the half was generally contested in midfield.
We saw last week how Jack Barmby came alive in the second half at Wolves, he did exactly the same again at Liverpool.
In the absence of Sam Byrne, McGuiness decided he’d stick with Ben Pearson in a central midfield role alongside Joe Rothwell and bring in the fit again Gyliano van Velzen. This pushed Barmby into the striker role. In the first half United created very few opportunities to get forward but in the second Barmby’s runs started to create gaps in the Liverpool defence, it’s these kind of runs this group and its setup have been screaming for. Today Januzaj and van Velzen were looking to play the ball in behind, when Tom Lawrence returns it’s exactly those runs he looks for and always tries to pick out.
Barmby was a constant threat throughout the second half and frustrated the Liverpool defenders so much that every other word was ‘f**kin hell’. They were two goals to the good and at sixes-n-sevens but United just couldn’t exploit the right areas to create clear cut chances.
Barmby capitalised on a mistake on the hour and drove at pace with the ball at Liverpool’s Joseph Rafferty who backed off frightened of his pace. He nudged the ball left to create enough space to crack an absolute screamer into the top left hand corner from about 20yds….the keeper had no chance and Jack joined Lawrence at the top of the scoring charts with five for the season.
Superb! United were back in it as a contest……great to see Jack’s reaction to such a sweet strike too. No one would’ve blamed him for admiring the goal and celebrating but instead he quickly retrieved the ball and gave out a rallying-call to his team mates who responded by playing the remaining 30 minutes with a passion and a determination that should’ve seen them take at least a point back down the East Lancs.
United did muster one fabulous opportunity to grab a point when substitute Kenji Gorre found himself through on goal but failed to sort his feet out and eventually lost the ball despite his best efforts.
It wasn’t to be and the Academy suffered its fourth defeat in a row and now host Crewe Alex at Carrington on Wednesday in a 1:30pm kick-off before a two week break.
Team: Jacob / Ekangamene, Blackett, McCullough, Hendrie / Daehli, Rothwell, Pearson, van Velzen, Januzaj / Barmby
Subs: Coll, Gorre, Love, Rudge, McNair
Communication – a lack of communication in the match versus Middlesboro a month ago featured heavily on the list of improvements to be made. Four weeks later and Luke McCullough, Tyler Blackett, Luke Hendrie, Jack Barmby and Liam Jacob can all be singled out for praise for how and what they were communicating.
Defending Counter Attacks – Versus Blackburn Rovers we were undone time after time on the counter after giving the ball away too cheaply…..yes we need to eliminate losing the ball too easily, but on Friday the boys displayed the desire to get back and make those all important recovery runs to rectify the mistake to either regain possession or merely prevent the opposition punishing them. Tyler Blackett again deserves praise here and so too Luke McCullough, both players assumed responsibility and recovered with purpose and dogged determination throughout, a vast improvement and proof that hard work really does pay off. There were no goals from counters this week and we won the second half by keeping a clean sheet which will give the defence a real confidence boost.
Donald Love – I think Donald looked promising in the short spell he had at rightback after replacing Luke Hendrie. Hopefully Hendrie will be given a break and Donald can get a game or two under his belt along with Paddy McNair and Kenji Gorre who’ve all yet to get their chance.
Charni Ekangamene – Looked comfortable at leftback despite a poor start.
This team’s coming together, don’t let anyone convince you of anything less, this team has talent and will come good before the season ends. League tables mean nothing, yes a good FA Youth Cup run starting in December would be great and give them a well deserved boost, but it’s not essential.
While the Academy continues to produce talents like Morrison, Lawrence, McCullough, Rothwell and Rashford (all ‘local’ talents) through the age groups, it’s obviously in good hands. And who are we to suggest a few defeats is a fair reflection on the standard of footballer we have?
Friday offers us another chance to see what – if any – improvements can be made, as usual you can follow regular match updates live from Carrington on Twitter by following me @Rimmerstweets.