Mastny the hero as Reds rebuild confidence
Manchester United's youngsters feel their confidence has been lifted by another encouraging showing in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday night.
Neil Wood's XI included six players eligible for the Under-18s, with 16-year-old Isak Hansen introduced off the bench, while Rochdale fielded some experienced campaigners in a competition that is both enjoyable and beneficial.
It is generally accepted that this season will be a steep learning curve for a young group but, following the 6-0 win at Salford City in the previous Group B fixture, this was probably just as pleasing, in some respects, as the boys managed to keep another clean sheet in the 0-0 draw, before coming out on top in a penalty shoot-out to claim a bonus point.
While the lack of fans does detract from the experience, taking part in the shoot-out, which we won 5-4 thanks to two Mastny saves, is another valuable lesson for the teenagers. Mastny also made a superb penalty stop in the second half, to thwart Aaron Morley, and there were many encouraging performances, particularly on the back of the disappointing 5-3 defeat to Liverpool in Premier League 2, where both lead coach Wood and the players felt we certainly did not play to our full potential.
With another league outing on the horizon, taking place in front of the MUTV cameras on Friday afternoon against Blackburn Rovers at 14:00 BST, morale has been raised within the camp.
“I think we played much better than we did against Liverpool,” Mastny told us after the game.
“It was very good for us and our confidence and was what we needed - to bounce back. I think we were calm on the ball and didn't concede, which is important as well.
“I think we can take this into the other games and hopefully win them. We held it to penalties and, luckily, we won. Of course, I am very happy to save three penalties in one match and it's even better when we win. I'm pleased with it.
“I spoke to Fetts [Alan Fettis], the goalkeeping coach, and the analysts and we had everything prepared. I knew which way the player would usually go and was just preparing for them. Luckily, it worked out and we can focus on the next game, take good things from this, many good things, and just play like this in the game against Blackburn on Friday.”
Centre-back Di'Shon Bernard added:
“It was a good test for us because they tested us physically. They were playing a few first-teamers so our younger boys came up against bigger players. I think we showed we can defend and keep a clean sheet. Everyone did their jobs because, if one person doesn't, it breaks down the whole team.
“It was a good job from everyone. Everyone put their bodies on the line as they had chances where they were on top of us but we all dug in and did well.
“It was a brilliant response. We all know it was a poor performance against Liverpool so it was good to get the win and build confidence going into the next game. Everyone is buzzing, the spirits are all up, and we've got to show Blackburn what we can do.”
Lead coach Wood was pleased with the overall performance and is looking forward to Friday's clash with Blackburn.
“I thought we did well,” he told us.
“Rochdale showed us a bit of respect with quite a few first-team players in there. We were looking at making improvements in terms of mentality and resilience, from the Liverpool game, when there were individual errors and we didn't quite show the desire and determination to compete and win the second balls.
“I knew that would be the case tonight so, in terms of that, I'm really pleased and thought we had possession football, where they sat off us a little bit so we had to drive the tempo and there were quite a lot of things we were working on in training coming out.
“We've got some young lads - I thought Joe Hugill was brilliant up front, Logan Pye had his first game for the Under-23s, and they're learning during games, before games and after games, at the moment. It's another bit of experience that goes into their development and they gave a good account of themselves.
“I thought Isak Hansen did really well. He was tidy and gave a chance for Hannibal to drop back into a deeper area to get on the ball and dictate some of the play a little bit more. Isak is a clever player, he's played in the first team [for Tromso] before coming here and you can see he's got intelligence, he receives it well and I'm pleased with the way he got stuck in as well. He regained some balls and won some tackles so, for me, he had a really good impact when he came on.
“The lads feel good in there. Ondrej is happy - he saved one during the game and almost another of the penalties but just missed it. I'm really pleased as a bit of confidence has come back generally and we're looking forward to the next game.”
The Under-23s face Blackburn Rovers at Leyland County Ground on Friday in a 14:00 BST kick-off in Premier League 2, with all the action live on MUTV.