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James Garner celebrates scoring against Blackburn.

Opinion: Why our Under-18s deserve to be champions

There is little doubt Manchester United's Under-18s deserve to be leading the northern table as we approach the climax to the campaign.

Kieran McKenna is taking his squad to Texas for the Dallas Cup and, when they return, three games stand between the Reds and the title. Despite a seven-point lead at the summit, success is still not guaranteed.

Liverpool, in second spot, have two games in hand and the two rivals meet at Kirkby in the final match of the season on Friday 20 April.

Everton also have a couple of fixtures in hand but are two points behind their Merseyside neighbours. Manchester City, the early pacesetters in the division, are fourth but will surely be out to wreck United's chances in the mini-derby in the penultimate fixture on 14 April.

So there is still much work to be done but United's exhilarating form bodes well for the run-in. The team has managed 30 goals in eight outings since the turn of the year and the only defeat in 2018, at Newcastle United, came with an injury-time goal against the run of play.

Under-18s manager Kieran McKenna is pleased by the progression of his young side this season

Yes, the FA Youth Cup exit at the hands of Derby County was bitterly disappointing, particularly as this side had the potential to go all the way in the competition. However, circumstances conspired against the Reds in a snowstorm at Pride Park with a much depleted team managing to hold out for penalties, only to lose the shoot-out to the young Rams.

The league performance, though, has been nothing short of sensational. Six goals have been racked up on four occasions and consecutive clean sheets in the last two outings suggest things are tightening up at the other end too. 

“We don't look too far ahead as we concentrate on the players putting on performances and getting better,” said McKenna. “If they do that - and they have been - you tend to win games. We know we're in a good position and we know we've got some really good games coming up at the end of the season.

"It's in the back of the players' minds somewhere and I did say we need to make sure we get to those games with a really competitive edge so it's not just the rivalries but also maybe relevant in terms of the league. We've had a great run of victories and performances to set us up for Dallas and then the three league games when we come back from America to finish the season off well.

Nishan Burkart and Mason Greenwood have been regular goalscorers for the Under-18s this season

The victors in the division will play the southern champions, likely to be Chelsea, in a battle to be crowned the overall Under-18s winners, and there are also personal accolades to play for. Schoolboy striker Mason Greenwood is level with Everton's Anthony Gordon on 14 goals in the scoring charts in the northern league, with Tottenham's Reo Griffiths three clear overall on 17.

Picking out individuals is not only difficult but would be unfair on something that has been very much a team effort. Most of the squad will be available at this level next season, even if they will hope to gain promotion to the Under-23s, like Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and, most recently, Ethan Laird have managed this year.

For now, the focus is on Dallas and an opportunity to gain key experience of tournament football in the United States. On our return, the end of the domestic season looks guaranteed to be an exciting one. Watch it unfold on MUTV if you cannot get to the games to cheer on the youngsters.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.