U23s report: United 3 Liverpool 5
Manchester United and Liverpool’s Under-23s scored eight goals between them in an incident-packed Premier League 2 encounter at Leigh.
But it was the Anfield lads who claimed the points in an entertaining but occasionally fiery clash.
This fixture, at every level, is the one most supporters look for when the season’s list of matches is revealed, and apart from the obvious rivalry between the two great clubs, it’s an occasion that rarely fails to deliver the goods.
This contest could comfortably be bracketed into that category if, ultimately, Neil Wood’s young and inexperienced line-up came out of it on the losing side, against a Liverpool outfit containing a number of players familiar with first-team and full international football.
With an autumnal chill in the air and threatening dark clouds above, the game started at a predictably lively pace, with both teams placing the emphasis on attack.
Anthony Elanga’s unquenchable energy was evident almost from the off, as he tested the visitors’ defence with a number of darting runs down the left wing.
The Reds had opened in a positive frame of mind, but so had Liverpool and, in the 11th minute, Leighton Clarkson put his side in front after winning the ball in midfield.
The Merseysiders had started to stamp their mark on the game and as a result openings began to appear and 11 minutes after taking the lead they doubled their advantage when Wales international Ben Woodburn’s shot took a deflection off Di’Shon Bernard before nestling in the top corner.
Jack Bearne made it three to the visitors and United appeared to be looking at a harrowing night, but hopes were raised briefly, in the 36th minute, when Elanga pulled one back from close range after Liverpool goalkeeper Ben Winterbottom failed to punch clear Hannibal’s free-kick.
Hopes that a United fightback was on the cards received a severe blow when Bearne grabbed his second of the night just before half-time, and Luis Longstaff made it five shortly after the break after capitalising on a mix-up at the back for the young Reds.
United’s Shola Shoretire and Liverpool’s Clarkson were then given their marching orders by referee David Richardson, with our no.7, making his first start for the Under-23s, reacting angrily to a late challenge by the visiting midfielder on Bernard.
After the red cards, the home side enjoyed their best spell of the match, with the ever-dangerous Elanga testing Winterbottom and Joe Hugill going close on his debut.
The game would at least finish on a positive note, with two goals in the closing stages –a sidefooted effort from Hannibal that left Winterbottom static and a neat McCann finish, to complete a well-crafted team move.
United 3 (Elanga 36, Hannibal 79, McCann 88)
Liverpool 5 (Clarkson 11, Woodburn 22, Bearne 30, 45+1, Longstaff 50)
United: Mastny; Bejger (Ercolani 46), Fish (c), Bernard, Svidersky; McCann, Wellens; Shoretire, Hannibal, Elanga; Helm (Hugill 23).
Subs not used: Carney, Neville, Stanley.
Sent off: Shoretire 61