Under-18s beaten by Middlesbrough
A much-changed Manchester United suffered only a second defeat of the season in the Under-18 Premier League North as a strong Middlesbrough team emerged victorious at the Aon Training Complex.
All three of the visitors' goals were scored in the second half as Boro, who also won the reverse fixture on Teesside back in September, are the only team to beat the Reds at this level this season.
It was also the first time that Neil Ryan’s team had failed to find the net in a match this term, but it wasn’t for the want of trying as the lads created chances and hit the post.
The young Reds were back in league action after their heroics in coming from two goals down to clinch an impressive 3-2 victory over Liverpool in the Premier League Cup seven days earlier on Merseyside.
Academy Action: United v Middlesbrough Video
There was a new look to the team which showed six changes from the comeback win over Liverpool last weekend, with Lukasz Beijer making only his second appearance at this level and Connor Stanley only his second start.
The opportunity also presented itself for 16-year-old midfielder Anthony Elanga to experience a more advanced role of spearheading the attack in a line-up in which James Thompson and Arnau Puigmal were the most senior players. Di’Shon Bernard, Brandon Williams, James Garner, Dylan Levitt and Mason Greenwood all played for the Under-23s against Southampton on Friday night.
The Aon Training Complex provided a wintry backdrop for this game against Boro, with snow carpeting most of the pitches except those of the Under-16s and Under-18s. However, there was a virtually clear blue sky and beaming sun over Carrington as the game kicked off at 12:30 GMT.
This was our Under-18s' 12th league game of the season and the players didn’t need to be told that the only team to get the better of them this season was Boro, who claimed three points with a 3-1 win on Teesside in early September.
So the scene was set and it soon became clear that Mark Tinkler's side were once again going to be tough nut for United to crack.
Neither side could really claim to have dominated a goalless first half, with both teams getting their fair share of possession, while clear-cut chances were at a premium.
The two goalkeepers weren’t, by any stretch of the imagination, overworked during the opening period, but both United’s James Thompson and Boro’s Sol Brynn were more than competent when called upon. Largie Ramazani was unlucky on two occasions while Boro’s Gabby McGill was thwarted by a rapid reaction save from Thompson.
United opened the second half showing more urgency and mobility. Barely a couple of minutes had elapsed when Elanga looked certain to score until the ball struck Boro defender Nicholas Hood and flew agonisingly over the crossbar. At the other end, McGill was disappointed to see his low shot just fail to find its intended destination.
Boro eased their way back into the action as the second half warmed up, but still it was the defences who were continuing to hold firm. That was until the 62nd minute when the visitors took the lead thanks to McGill’s conversion of a penalty award after he had been fouled by Teden Mengi, who wore the captain's armband for the day.
United needed to summon the same character shown against Liverpool last time out to come from behind and, with 20 minutes remaining, the lads appeared to have done just that. Full-back Arnau Puigmal moved up-field to provide Ramazani with an inviting pass inside the Boro penalty area, but the winger saw his shot agonisingly come back off the inside of the post before bouncing back out.
Under-18s in action Gallery
A selection of images from the young Reds' Premier League North match against Middlesbrough.
The Reds went close on numerous occasions to getting on the scoresheet as Puigmal, who scored against Boro earlier in the season, saw a fine free-kick well saved by Brynn, who also kept out Dion McGhee when the midfielder found himself in space inside the box.
But United were then stunned by two goals in the space of four minutes from Boro, as Alberto Balde rounded the keeper to slot home before McGill headed in a left-wing cross for his second of the afternoon.
Despite the result, it was a good education and learning curve for the young Reds against a strong Middlesbrough team as coach Ryan looks to bed in a number of new players.
United 0 Middlesbrough 3 (McGill 62 pen, 82, Balde 78)
United: Thompson; Puigmal, Mengi, Bejger, Devine; McCann, McGhee, Galbraith (Helm 83); Stanley (Traore 66), Elanga, Ramazani.
Subs not used: Carney, Denham, Neville.
Our Under-18s are back in action against league leaders Everton on Tuesday evening at Finch Farm. Kick-off is at 18:00 GMT and you can watch the game live on MUTV.
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