Hugill brace secures a point for Under-23s
Manchester United Under-23s showed battling qualities in drawing 2-2 with Blackburn Rovers at the Lancashire County Ground in Leyland.
Joe Hugill capped his first league start with a brace, the first a well-taken effort just two minutes into the game.
Connor McBride’s penalty and a Brad Lyons header looked to have given Rovers the win, but Hugill then popped up at the far post, with just four minutes to play, to turn home Anthony Elanga’s cross.
Lead coach Neil Wood made two changes to the side that overcame Rochdale on penalties in the EFL Trophy in midweek, with Harvey Neville replacing Logan Pye in the XI and slotting in at right-back and 16-year-old Isak Hansen in for his first Under-23s start, in place of Martin Svidersky in midfield.
A youthful United side got off to a flyer with an early opener.
The game was a little over 90 seconds old when Elanga found Hugill in space in the box, and the 16-year-old showed great composure to hit the bottom corner.
Rovers came into the game with a 100 per cent record, but it was the Reds who were the better side for much of the opening 25 minutes, with Elanga’s stinger being well held by Jordan Eastham.
Then, against the run of play, Di’Shon Bernard was adjudged to have blocked Isaac Whitehall’s shot with a hand and, from the resulting spot-kick, McBride scored past Ondrej Mastny, although the Czech stopper did dive the right way.
The goal appeared to boost the home side’s confidence and United skipper Will Fish blocked well from Rovers’ left-winger Luke Brennan, before Mastny stretched to tip Ben Paton’s drive behind and ensure it was a goal apiece at the break.
Further chances arrived for Rovers almost immediately after the resumption, with Fish heading against his own post and Bernard intervening on the line after Mastny had got the slightest of touches on Hayden Carter’s firm header.
The Czech could do nothing to stop Blackburn taking the lead on the hour mark, however, when Lyons reacted quickest to head home a half-cleared Carter cross.
Wood opted for a switch of personnel, bringing Lukasz Bejger on at left-back, with Luca Ercolani joining Fish in defence and Bernard pushing up into midfield.
The blue-and-white tide continued to pour forward, though, with Sam Barnes’ radar only slightly wide of the mark when he tried a speculative effort from 18 yards.
Elanga was the conduit through which the Reds looked most likely to get back into the game, regularly forcing his way through on goal from the left but finding his way blocked by a resolute Rovers backline. It was from this avenue that United won a corner – Hannibal’s set-piece delivery was perfect, but Bernard saw his header grasped by Eastham.
Half-time replacement Connor Stanley then forced the Rovers’ keeper into another save, as he worked space on the edge of the box and let fly after a free-flowing counter-attack, initiated by the neat-and-tidy Hansen.
United were clearly in the ascendancy and, with less than five minutes left on the clock, Elanga – now playing on the right after the introduction of Noam Emeran - broke clear and crossed with Eastham only diverting it to an unmarked Hugill, who tapped home his second of the game.
Blackburn almost snatched a late winner, but Lewis Thompson’s header fortunately drifted wide.
Blackburn 2 (McBride 26, Lyons 59)
United 2 (Hugill 2, 86)
United: Mastny; Neville, Fish (c), Bernard, Ercolani; McCann (Bejger 66), Hannibal; Wellens (Stanley 46), Hansen (Emeran 86), Elanga; Hugill.
Subs not used: Carney.