Reds shade seven-goal clash with Ballymena
Manchester United’s Under-23s emerged on the right side of an entertaining 4-3 scoreline against Northern Irish outfit Ballymena United on Tuesday night, at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
This was the Reds’ second game in Northern Ireland, following on from a superb evening against Rangers Under-21s on Saturday, when goals from Ethan Galbraith, Puigmal, Anthony Elanga and Di’Shon Bernard ensured we ran out as comfortable 4-0 winners.
Just like the weekend contest, Neil Wood's team started on the front foot against Ballymena and managed a first shot on target after just three minutes via Largie Ramazani, who controlled from a corner before his effort was gathered by Ballymena goalkeeper Ross Glendinning.
After United dominated the opening exchanges, the hosts grew into the game and created two chances just before the quarter-hour mark. Firstly, Shane McGinty’s powerful effort fizzed just wide and then Paul Woolston produced a superb save to deny Freil.
Yet, soon after, the Sky Blues striker was celebrating as he met Ross Lavery’s in-swinging corner and the ball nestled in the visitors' goal.
It was a lead they held for 15 minutes, in which time the best effort offered by United was a curling attempt by George Tanner.
But in the 29th minute, good play from Ramazani and Brandon Williams released the latter down the left flank, before he was brought down in the box by Ballymena captain Jim Ervin and the referee correctly pointed to the spot. Levitt stood up and confidently stroked the penalty home to level proceedings.
The Reds were up and running now and Levitt’s smart shot was well held by the Sky Blues keeper, and, in the 41st minute, James Garner came close with a swirling free-kick.
Levitt had the last chance of note in the first half, when Ramazani flew down the left flank and picked out the midfielder. However, the subsequent shot went just wide.
Within a minute of the restart, the Reds again came close, but Teden Mengi’s effort from a corner looped over the Ballymena crossbar.
Ballymena were beginning to look leggy and Williams skipped down the wing and crossed for Mellor, but the striker skewed his shot over.
The rain was lashing down at this point in proceedings, but it didn’t dampen the youngsters' spirits and, on the hour mark, Barlow netted the Reds’ third.
Mellor turned provider this time and his inch-perfect ball found the United no.8 in the box and he easily slotted past Williamson.
United continued in the ascendancy, with both Tanner and Mellor coming close, before in the 64th-minute, a Ballymena counter-attack saw Freil crash an effort off the crossbar for the hosts.
The Sky Blues no.9 was proving to be a real handful for the Reds and, moments later, he delivered a dangerous cross into substitute Adam Lecky, who was tripped by Laird in the area.
For the second time, the referee pointed to the shot and McGrory smashed the ball past Woolston to half the arrears.
The United keeper was called into action when Laird inadvertently turned the ball towards his own goal and then Steven McCullogh produced a testing effort from a free-kick.
With just over 10 minutes left, Wood introduced all five of his outfield substitutes and the boost in fitness almost immediately told. Williams again started things off, advancing from left-back. He picked out Elanga in the area, and, when his shot was saved, Puigmal reacted first to poke it home.
It was not to be the last goal of the evening, as Freil teed-up Harper with six minutes remaining and he netted the seventh and final strike of the evening.
The final minutes were a nervy affair for the visitors, but United held on without conceding any real chances of note, and ensured a second win in a row from the trip to Northern Ireland.
United: Woolston (c); Laird, Mengi, Bernard, Williams; Garner, Barlow (Galbraith), Levitt (Traore); Tanner (McGhee), Mellor (Elanga), Ramazani (Puigmal).
Sub not used: Kovar.
United scorers: Levitt 29, Mellor 33, Barlow 60, Puigmal 81
Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.