Under-23s begin the league season in style
Manchester United's Under-23s won the opening game of the Premier League 2 season 5-0 against West Brom at Kidderminster's Aggborough ground.
Neil Wood's side dictated the play throughout and coasted to an emphatic victory, with James Garner scoring twice, and playing excellently, in a superb overall team performance. Largie Ramazani, D'Mani Mellor and Dylan Levitt also found the net.
After the 2-0 triumph at Rotherham United in the Leasing.com trophy in midweek, two changes to the XI were made with Ethan Galbraith and Arnau Puigmal replacing Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong, who have first-team aspirations this term.
Both teams attempted a passing game from the outset with former Red Michael Appleton in charge of the hosts but there were no real chances of note in the opening quarter of an hour. All that was to change, however, with full-backs Ethan Laird and Brandon Williams getting forward at every attempt to wreak havoc down the flanks.
After 18 minutes, a quite brilliant move, instigated by Garner's visionary pass down the left, continued when Williams took it in his stride and carefully pulled the ball back for Ramazani to sweep home with his left foot to add to his goal at Rotherham.
As the rain lashed down, Stanley Asomugha screwed off target but it proved to be a rare sight of Matej Kovar's goal for the Baggies. Galbraith's first touch to a Laird pass invited a volley that was comfortably saved by Brad House and the keeper was relieved when Laird could only find the side-netting, following a clever ball by Puigmal.
When Jack Fitzwater's second attempt to clear a Puigmal corner fell to Levitt, the ball was quickly helped on to Mellor, whose first-time strike swerved away from House to double the lead on 29 minutes. It was one-way traffic, by now, with a thrilling run by Ramazani forcing House into a good save and Levitt twice firing narrowly off target. After Williams headed wide from a promising position, Garner managed to add a third in stoppage time with a sensational strike from Williams's pass, which flew into the top corner of the net.
There was no suggestion United would ease up after the break and a fourth goal soon arrived, four minutes into the second half. Another flowing move cut the Albion defence apart with Galbraith's dummy helping the break and Williams's charging run on the overlap demanding the ball from Ramazani. The left-back was fouled just inside the box and Levitt, who is proving to be quite the penalty expert, kept his nerve to accurately steer the spot-kick past House, despite the keeper diving the right way.
Mellor bent a drive onto the bar from a Puigmal set-up and Levitt, who had a number of attempts, smashed an effort over the bar as West Brom struggled to keep the rampant Reds at bay.
House did well to keep out a curler from Ramazani and another screamer by Levitt whistled off target, prompting a double change by Wood with Laird and Levitt replaced by Luca Ercolani and Aliou Traore. The two arrivals were quickly into the action, with Ercolani defending a dangerous ball into the box and Traore's cross almost leading to an own goal.
The fifth, and final goal, was another beauty as Mellor's pass inside fed Garner, who dribbled through and crashed his second of the game past a bemused House. It capped a fine display by the midfield general.
Mellor picked up a knock and was withdrawn for Dion McGhee before Di'Shon Bernard looped a header wide and Garner, latching onto a clearance from a Puigmal corner, was denied a hat-trick by House's stop.
Not that it mattered too much as this was an excellent performance and some way to kick off the league campaign.
United: Kovar; Laird (Ercolani 66), O'Connor, Bernard, Williams; Garner, Levitt (Traore 66); Puigmal, Galbraith, Ramazani; Mellor (McGhee 80).
Subs not used: Fojticek, Elanga.
Scorers: Ramazani 18, Mellor 29, Garner 45,77 Levitt 49 (pen)
It's free entry for all spectators at Leigh Sports Village, next Friday night, when United's Under-23s face Reading (19:00 BST kick-off).