Young Reds make winning start in Leasing.com Trophy
Manchester United's youngsters made a winning start to life in the EFL Trophy, newly rebranded the Leasing.com Trophy, thanks to second-half strikes by Ethan Laird and Largie Ramazani in a 2-0 win at Rotherham United.
Neil Wood's side were good value for the three points at the New York Stadium in front of 3,105 supporters, including a boisterous 435 fans in the away end, who were already singing about Wembley and celebrated the second-half goals wildly.
With the experience of playing against senior opposition a vital learning curve for the players, once they adapted to their surroundings, they performed well and clearly enjoyed the evening.
The young Reds created an excellent one-on-one opportunity inside the first eight minutes, when Angel Gomes released fellow Tour 2019 member Tahith Chong, but Lewis Price narrowed the angle and saved impressively with his legs to keep the scores level.
There were no takers when Laird drilled a ball across the face of goal but the Millers came into the game with Freddie Ladapo working Matej Kovar. Gomes tried his luck with a free-kick from distance that brushed the side-netting and later had another set-piece that was delicately struck and shaved the bar. At the other end, Kovar made a couple of brave stops in quick succession when Ladapo again threatened, before the home striker crossed for Jamie Lindsay to fire over a presentable chance.
There was an injury scare for James Garner after he retrieved possession in first-half injury time with a determined challenge, but he was able to continue after the break.
The second half started at a quicker tempo and the game became much more open with Dylan Levitt, watched by Wales manager Ryan Giggs from the stands, and Ramazani seeing more of the ball. Chong cleared the bar after being fed by Levitt and some neat skill by Laird allowed him to hammer in a cross that was diverted over the top by Di'Shon Bernard.
Although Lee O'Connor then thudded an attempt wide, Rotherham also carved out more openings, with Carlton Morris having the best of them. His low shot looked destined for the net, even when Kovar got a big hand to it, but flashed just the wrong side of the keeper's left-hand post, from the home team's perspective. It was a fabulous stop and would prove crucial.
D'Mani Mellor was unable to finish a through ball by Ramazani and also fired too high, following a diving header by Millers substitute Michael Smith that was easily dealt with by Kovar. The Reds really began to turn the screw with some fine approach work by Gomes, and a delayed pass, playing in Ramazani but his shot was too close to Price, who parried it away for a corner.
The breakthrough would soon follow though, as Brandon Williams picked up a loose ball from the corner and delivered an astute pass to opposite full-back Laird inside the box. The right-sided defender unleashed a ferocious drive that arrowed into the corner of Price's net for the opener.
Four minutes later, a superb pass from Garner set Ramazani away down the right. Ignoring Laird's calls for a pass back, the Belgian cut inside instead to go alone and send a smart low finish past Price to double the lead in front of the away supporters.
Mellor was unable to smuggle in a Chong centre from inside the six-yard box, Levitt's drive from a Ramazani pass somehow stayed out after hitting a post, and Chong was denied in injury time as United kept the pressure on throughout the 90 minutes.
United: Kovar; Laird, Bernard, O’Connor, Williams; Garner, Levitt; Ramazani, Gomes, Chong; Mellor.
Subs not used: Fojticek, Ercolani, Tanner, Galbraith, McGhee, Puigmal, Traore.
Scorers: Laird 69, Ramazani 73
The Reds' next fixture in the competition is provisionally scheduled for 27 August at Lincoln City's Sincil Bank, with kick-off at 19:45 BST. The Premier League 2 campaign starts away to West Brom on Friday, with a 19:00 BST start, live on MUTV.
Reading this in our app? If not, you might miss some exclusive features not found on ManUtd.com. Download the Official App here.