Under-23s rampant at the Riverside
Manchester United’s Under-23s closed the gap to three points behind Premier League 2 Division Two leaders West Ham United with a 4-1 win over Middlesbrough at a damp and breezy Riverside Stadium on Monday evening.
United led 2-0 at the break with both goals coming from Arnau Puigmal, but Boro pulled one back, before Tahith Chong ensured victory and will claim a double himself, even if his first may, ultimately, go down as a Daniel Dodds own goal. One or two fans in the crowd looked a little worried just before the kick-off when the stadium lights started flickering, but there was no need for concern as the disco-style light show was just Boro’s novel way of introducing the action. There was a chill in the air, which is hardly surprising for this little corner of the country in November, and drizzle was falling as the teams emerged from the tunnel.
Puigmal's free-kick beauty Video
Puigmal's free-kick beauty
Arnau Puigmal's exquisite free-kick gave the U23s the lead at Middlesbrough...
There was little to separate the teams in the opening stages but it was the home side were engineering the lion’s share of goalscoring opportunities. Fortunately for United, we were represented by a keeper in exceptional form, as Matej Kovar made several breathtaking saves to keep Boro’s forwards at bay. Hayden Hackney and Connor Malley were just two of the home side’s players who were frustrated by Kovar’s acrobatics. At the other end, Middlesbrough keeper Solomon Brynn hadn’t seen quite as much of the ball as his opposite number and that was certainly case, in the 19th minute, when Puigmal’s blistering free-kick , from fully 25 yards, flew past him to put United in front. It was a goal than bore more than a passing resemblance to one Marcus Rashford smashed in against Chelsea in London last week. It was the first goal of the season for the Spanish youngster and he was to add another close to the half-time whistle. But. before that .it was Kovar again who took the laurels when he guessed correctly to dive to keep out a penalty kick from Ben Liddle, the Boro skipper, after Stephen Walker had gone down in the area under a challenge by Teden Mengi.
United could be more than pleased going in at break with a one-goal lead, but we were delighted when, with moments remaining on the referee’s watch, Puigmal exhanged passes with captain Chong before slotting the ball home beyond the keeper’s reach with an instinctive finish. Boro could feel a little unlucky to be trailing by two goals, considering the chances they had failed to tuck away and their plight was very nearly worsened immediately following the restart when Ethan Laird almost made it three after going one his excursions into the Boro area. That would have probably put the game beyond recovery for the Teessiders but their admirable determination meant that United had no chance to take a breather. Then, with 15 minutes to go, the home side duly got themselves back into the match when substitute Rumarn Burrell made it 2-1 with a close-range shot that rolled past an exposed Kovar.
Aliou Traore was a vital cog in the United midfield.
It appeared that United were staring at a torrid last few minutes, but it couldn’t have been more of a contrast. Under-18s duo Charlie Wellens and Hannibal Mejbri were introduced into the fray and, within seconds, the latter had threaded a great pass to Chong. The Dutch winger squeezed it home from a tight angle, but only with the aid of a deflection off Boro defender Dodds. Four minutes later, United put some icing on the cake with Chong definitely claiming the fourth goal. Another substitute, Anthony Elanga, galloped down the right to cross and, although D'Mani Mellor's volley was blocked, Chong pounced on the loose ball and took his time before lashing in a left-foot drive. Mejbri, who was subjected to a number of fouls, almost got on the scoresheet with a deflected shot that was saved by Brynn, as this was an excellent evening's work for the young Reds.
Di'Shon Bernard brings the ball forward out of defence.
United: Kovar; Laird, Mengi, Bernard, Devine; Puigmal (Mejbri 78), Traore (Wellens 78); Mellor, Levitt, Chong; Ramazani (Elanga 58).
Substitutes not used: Woolston, Helm.
Scorers: Burrell 76 | Puigmal 19,45 Chong 81,85
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