Under-18s held to a draw at Blackburn
Ethan Laird scored on his return from injury and Mipo Odubeko netted a debut goal but Manchester United's Under-18s had to settle for a point against Blackburn Rovers at Brockhall on Saturday.
Laird's rifled finish and Odubeko's composed finish had the much-changed Reds two goals ahead at the break, but a spirited fightback by the Lancashire hosts saw them claw their way back into the game to earn a share of the spoils.
Neil Ryan named an experimental line-up which showed eight changes from the Premier League Cup semi-final defeat at Manchester City last weekend, with Teden Mengi, Ethan Galbraith and Largie Ramazani the only survivors.
Jacob Carney started in United’s number one shirt and he was joined in the starting line-up by Oliver Denham, Reece Devine, Mark Helm and Odubeko, all of whom were embarking on the next stage of their progress through the ranks.
The weather has to get a mention, because it was like an early summer’s day at Brockhall with virtually clear blue skies and mildly warm sunshine. Some would say perfect conditions for football and anyone who has attended a game here in winter would for sure vouch for those sentiments.
Under-18s images Gallery
The best pics from the young Reds' league match against Blackburn Rovers at Brockhall Training Ground.
Playing against Rovers at Brockhall has always been a daunting proposition and the early exchanges of this contest served as a quick reminder that there was no chance of the teams taking their time to ease themselves into the game.
Skipper Mengi's last words before the first whistle were
“Come on lads, let’s have a bright start,” - and that is just what he got as the Reds picked up the gauntlet from the off. It wasn’t immediately noticeable that United’s personnel had undergone a considerable re-shuffle, for it was quickly apparent that the lads were good and ready for the fray.
And an early goal, scored by defender Laird in the 11th minute, helped to boost confidence and quell any nerves that were jangling. The adventurous right-back, on his first appearance since November after injury, saw his initial cross blocked before he advanced towards the byline and fired a low shot past Jordan Eastham in the home goal.
Ten minutes later, Ryan's side doubled the lead when Odubeko seized upon defensive uncertainty to score his first goal on his debut at Under-18s level with a composed finish.
Harvey Neville - son of Phil, the former United defender and current manager of the England Women’s team - took to the field in the second half to replace Laird, who had taken a couple of heavy knocks during an impressive first-half performance on his return.
Playing in their instantly recognisable blue and white shirts, Rovers started the second half with a spring in their step, but United's defence were equal to the threat and Carney was proving to be a considerable obstacle to the home side's ambitions.
United weren’t enjoying as much success as in the first half and, in the 63rd minute, the lead was halved when Chanka Zimba converted a cutback from close range to put his side back in the picture.
In the minutes that followed, Rovers continued to press and there is no doubt that, but for Carney’s excellent exhibition in the art of goalkeeping, the home side would have been level sooner.
Carney made several terrific saves but even he could do nothing to prevent Rovers winger Sam Durrant from scoring the equaliser with 10 minutes to play.
Both teams had opportunities to claim all three points in the dying moments as Mengi went close with a header and Galbraith saw a rifled effort from outside of the box saved by Eastham. But the Reds had to make do with a point from a game in which the squad will take plenty from in their continued development.
Neil Ryan's post-match interview Video
United: Carney; Laird (Neville 46), Mengi, Denham, Devine; McGhee, Galbraith, Helm (Hockenhull 69); Stanley (Haygarth 90), Odubeko, Ramazani.
Substitutes not used: Thompson, Bejger.
Goals: Laird 11, Odubeko 21.
Our Under-18s are next in action on Saturday 2 March when West Bromwich Albion are the visitors to the Aon Training Complex in the Under-18 Premier League (kick-off 11:30 GMT).
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