Under-18s: Manchester United 2 Stoke City 1
Manchester United’s Under-18s were in action at their spiritual home – The Cliff on Lower Broughton Road in Salford – on Friday night, securing a 2-1 triumph over Stoke City.
With goals on either side of half-time, from Aidan Barlow and Nishan Burkart, the Reds collected the first points of the season in what was a typically incident-packed game against the Potters.
United’s great FA Youth Cup-winning sides of the 1950s (and beyond) were assembled, honed and nurtured at this famous training ground, alongside the River Irwell, and it has remained a special place for generations of young players ever since. It is a facility that is firmly enshrined in the club’s history and, to this day, retains a magical attraction for players, coaches and supporters alike.
Just looking at the pitch, beautifully manicured and mown in the classic Wembley style of broad alternating strips, was enough to bring back memories. And those old enough to remember the halcyon days of the past would surely be struggling not have a moistening of the eye when visiting the old place these days.
Anyway, that is enough of the nostalgia and on to the main business of the evening and the Under-18 Premier League fixture against the team from the Potteries.
It was a pleasant, quite warm and dry, evening in Salford and there was good gathering of dedicated fans who were accommodated on the riverside of the ground. United, who were aiming to get the season up and running after faltering in the campaign’s opener at West Brom, contributed to a lively opening with both sides looking to attack at every opportunity as the ball swung from one end to the other.
The first decent chance of the game fell to the visitors when Venancio Monteiro fired in a free-kick that needed dealing with by United keeper Alex Fojtíček, who did really well to stop it entering the net just below the angle of crossbar and post.
On the half-hour mark, United went close when Lee O’Connor's close-range shot was blocked on the line by Stoke’s number one Male Deczki. Two minutes later, Stoke should have scored when Monteiro latched on to Krisztofer Szereto’s left-wing cross but his shot was wide of the post.
United eventually moved into the lead, with three minutes of the half remaining, when Barlow managed to re-direct James Garner’s shot past Deczki from inside the box, following a positive run by Angel Gomes.
United were celebrating again within 60 seconds of the restart as a beautiful sweeping move downfield involving several players was concluded when Burkart stooped to superbly head Millen Baars' right-wing centre firmly past Deczki.
Stoke pulled one back, on the hour, when Szereto scored confidently from the penalty-spot after the referee had spotted a handling offence by Ethan Galbraith, even if the decision seemed harsh.
There was no further scoring but plenty of action and goalmouth incident to entertain the fans on this, the first evening match to be played at The Cliff this season.
United: Fojtíček; Laird, Dunne, O’Connor, Williams; Baars (Greenwood 87), Garner, Galbraith (Levitt 64), Barlow; Gomes; Burkart (Bernard 90). Subs not used: Thompson, Ramazani.