Tomorrow sees the return of the Premier Academy League as United take on Bolton at Carrington in an 11am kickoff.
These sides met in early November in what proved to be a enjoyable game between two teams so far struggling for consistency this season. The match ended in a 2-1 win for United with goals either side of halftime from Ekangamene and Barmby, the former blasting a wonderful low strike from 30+ yards and the latter a smart finish after an awful defensive lapse of concentration.
The score could and maybe should have been greater that day with good chances squandered throughout. The victory was marred by what turned out to be a nasty hip injury to Joe Rothwell, his return is expected sometime in February. The game was also an opportunity for the young, but quickly improving young reds, to keep a valuable clean sheet. It wasn’t to be thanks to a late break away goal that could easily have been dealt with.
In the 8 or so weeks since that game United have played two league matches and one FA Youth Cup tie; losing only once to an unlucky (but again avoidable) late counter-attack from Liverpool. Other than that the tie versus Torquay was as straight forward as it could be and the win against Albion a hard fought exciting match that United should really have put to bed earlier than they did.
After a four week break (some of the 1st Year Scholars spent 2 weeks in Brazil in a mini tournament) the boys could be forgiven for looking a little rusty tomorrow morning BUT, remember the opening seconds of our last two matches at Carrington? Our sleeping defence was breached within seconds of both games, one providing a warning, the other proving a vital goal in the defeat to Liverpool. These Academy matches are there to be learned from, so once can be put down to experience and twice is a bit careless, but if it happens a third time then it’s time to worry. Hopefully tomorrow they can show us they’ve gained from the experience and start fast and alert.
I bang on about how the results are not too important at this stage but, there are times when wins (or at least good performances) are a necessity for differing reasons throughout the season. Tomorrow is one of those days where, in my view, the result is NOT so vital. A good defensive performance should be an aim, with that elusive cleansheet an important target. It’s definitely achievable tomorrow against a team lying bottom of the table despite them regularly finding the net. They created very few chances at home so there was nothing to suggest they can trouble us too much at Carrington, if the boys concentrate on keeping possession, moving into space and working hard for each other like they have been, then there’s a good chance this game could become one-way traffic.
With the Christmas break, the long-term absences of Rothwell & Lawrence and the need to give a few players game-time, your guess is as good as mine as to which team McGuiness will field tomorrow, but here’s my best guess.
Bench: Coll, Hendrie, Pearson, Weir, McNair/Wilson/Gorre/Wilkinson
Coverage starts on MUTV at 10:45 but the tea & biscuits table will be getting a bruising well before then so any team news will be transponded in the usual way via Twitter, hopefully the weather gives the lads an opportunity to kick the year off with good display…..we need it after the week the club’s had!
Starting from today, I want to point-out the one or two of the players I’ll be observing during the game and why. From week-to-week I want to suggest who to keep an eye on and what to look for (if you get chance to watch the game) to highlight a players strengths and/or progress. Hopefully it will provoke some discussion after the game and also help us learn about the players.
One-to-watch: Luke McCullough – his positioning, his awareness and the timing/technique of his tackles, all superb.
One-to-Improve: van Velzen – holds on to the ball for too long and runs into trouble with his head down. Get your head up!
** Did you know you can subscribe to MUTV online and watch The Academy there? **