U18s: United 2 Blackburn Rovers 1
United’s Under-18s launched our Premier League North campaign with a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at The Cliff on Saturday lunchtime.
Neil Ryan’s lads could scarcely have been given a sterner test for our season’s curtain-raiser. The clubs have been locking horns at this level since Lancashire League days and it is invariably one of those ‘no quarter asked, no quarter given’ occasions.
And that could barely have been better illustrated when, within the opening minute, Rovers defender Lennie Cirino was shown the yellow card after scything down United’s French youngster Noam Emeran.
Needless to say, it was a lively start to the game, and the season, for United and but for the intervention of midfielder Jared Harlock the Reds could have been a goal up early on through Rhys Bennett’s header. It looked a certain goal for the Manchester-born defender but Harlock came to his side's rescue, heading the ball against the crossbar and away to safety.
Bennett, who has been at United since he was a tiddler, was involved again a little later when he was cautioned by the referee after blocking the progress of Rovers forward Alex Baker.
United were having the better of the attacking action and shortly before the half-hour mark had been reached we claimed our reward.
Skipper Martin Svidersky did well to win the ball in midfield and wasted no time in passing to Hugill, who took a couple of steps forward before unleashing a truly venomous shot that gave the Rovers keeper little chance of seeing it let alone saving it.
It was a great start to season for the former Sunderland striker and with a slight adjustment to his direction-finder he could have been celebrating a hat-trick soon after the interval.
The opening stages of the second half pretty well mirrored the earlier spell, with United still enjoying the bulk of possession and scoring opportunities.
Bennett was unlucky again, in the 63rd minute, when he found the net with a header but his effort was scrubbed out when the referee spotted that the ball had struck his arm before crossing the line.
It increasingly appeared that it was going to be United’s day and when Hugill cracked home his second goal of his debut, 16 minutes from the close, the points indeed looked to be secured.
United’s new goalkeeper Radek Vitek had enjoyed a reasonably comfortable first game for the club, but he wasn’t found wanting in the closing minutes when he made two tremendous saves to deny the Rovers forwards.
But even he couldn’t prevent Rovers from getting a late boost when Brandon Lonsdale scored for the visitors with two minutes remaining. It mattered little in the end though as the Reds held out for a deserved opening win.
United: Vitek; Hughes, Bennett, Hardley, Pye; Svidersky (c), Hansen-Aaroen (Hoogewerf 63), Savage; Wellens (Forson 78), Hugill, Emeran (Mejia 72).
Subs not used: Fernandez, Guadagno
Goals: (Hugill 29, 74)