Under-18s edged out in eight-goal rollercoaster
Manchester United’s Under-18s ran out second best in an eight-goal rollercoaster of a game against West Bromwich Albion at the Baggies’ training complex.
United captain Charlie McCann scored from the penalty spot to put Neil Ryan's side back in contention just before the break after Rico Richards and Jovan Malcolm had given Albion a two-goal lead.
Mark Helm put the Reds level on terms before Richards once again restored his side’s advantage and then, in a breathless spell, Helm was on the mark again to make it 3-3.
The match then ran away from United in the final 25 minutes, as Alex Gilbert netted from the spot and Richards completed his hat-trick to confirm the destination of the three points.
Heavy frost overnight had put the fixture in some doubt but it was ultimately decided that the pitch surface was playable so the teams proceeded to go up against each other for the second time in a week.
Neil Ryan made five changes to the side that came from two goals down to beat Albion 3-2 in Tuesday’s League Cup tie, while Baggies’ coach Peter Gilbert really rang the changes with nine fresh players coming in for this Under-18 Premier League North fixture.
Apart from the plummeting temperatures, it was a bright and sunny morning in the West Midlands as the game got under way.
Both sides were lively and adventurous during the opening exchanges, with United going close on a couple of occasions through Shola Shoretire and Deji Sotona.
But it was Albion who claimed the first goal when Richards rattled home a left foot shot from close range. A few minutes later, Richards’ strike-partner Malcolm thought he had doubled the lead but United ‘keeper Dermot Mee had other ideas.
Hannibal Mejbri, who was looking bright and industrious, almost levelled the scores with a clever chipped effort that struck the Albion crossbar, but Albion increased their lead two minutes before the break with a goal that owed much to Malcolm’s strength and determination, the forward shrugging off the attention of several United defenders to burst through and score with an angled drive.
There was a distinct feeling of deja vu as Albion again took a two-goal lead and the similarity with Tuesday’s encounter continued when United pulled one back on the stroke of half-time thanks to skipper McCann’s unerring accuracy from the penalty-spot, after Sotona’s progress had been abruptly halted.
United launched themselves into the second half with renewed positivity and it came as no real surprise when Helm grabbed the Reds’ equaliser in the 54th minute. Parity was just reward for United’s early second half vitality, but that was to be undone just three minutes later when Richards got his second goal of the game to put the home side back in front.
To describe the contest as free-flowing and entertaining would be a grievous understatement and the goals continued to mount up in the 66th minute when Helm beat Albion ‘keeper Josh Griffiths to make it 3-3.
Incredibly, the teams were level for just two minutes before Gilbert netted from the penalty-spot and, with less than a quarter of an hour remaining, Albion struck what was to be the telling blow when Richards completed his hat-trick with a left-foot shot high into the net.
United: Mee; Neville (Hughes 45+3), Fish, Hockenhull, Bejger; McCann, Mejbri (Hoogewerf 67), Helm (Svidersky 86); Wellens, Sotona, Shoretire.
Substitutes not used: Mastny, Denham.
Scorers: West Brom (Richards 20, 57, 77, Malcolm 43, Gilbert 68) United (McCann 45, Helm 54, 66)
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