Under-23s beaten in season finale
Any hopes of Manchester United’s Under-23s finishing the Premier League 2 Division One season on a high note were dismantled by Derby County, who deserved their 3-1 win at Leigh on Monday evening.
Hannibal’s goal midway through an otherwise uneventful first half saw United reach the break in front, but the Rams hit back with three goals in 17 second-half minutes.
And United were forced to negotiate the final 35 minutes with 10 men, after Hannibal was sent off for collecting two yellow cards.
Reds’ coach Neil Wood made four changes to the line-up which galloped to a 6-2 win away to the same opposition at Loughborough just seven days ago.
Goalkeeper Ondrej Mastny, the versatile Charlie Wellens, Norwegian youngster Isak Hansen and the under-18s’ top scorer Charlie McNeill were included in the starting XI in place of Matej Kovar, Ethan Galbraith, Omari Forson and Anthony Elanga.
Both teams congregated around the centre circle to observe a minute’s silence and pay their respects to former United player and Republic of Ireland international Alan McLoughlin, who tragically passed away last week, aged 54.
Derby, who also made a rash of changes from the recent meeting between the sides, launched into the game as though they were determined to avoid successive heavy defeats and for the opening 20 minutes they were certainly the dominant force with Festy Ebosele going closest to finding a way past Mastny.
United also threatened, with McNeill just failing to get on the end of Reece Devine’s inviting cross.
Devine was then involved for the opener, when his pass found Hannibal in space outside the Derby area in the 26th minute.
There didn’t appear to be any imminent danger for the Rams, but the Frenchman spotted his chance and let fly with a wonderful strike which Matt Yates, the Rams’ keeper, had little hope of seeing, never mind saving.
It was a slice of rough justice for the visitors whose play had warranted a payback, but they rapidly regrouped to give United’s defence a few more nervy moments before the break.
The opening 25 minutes of the second half was to see a dramatic change in United’s fortunes, though, which began with Cameron Cresswell grabbing the equaliser.
The 21-year-old, who has first-team experience, connected superbly to head home Connor Dixon’s cross and the Reds suffered a further blow when Hannibal was given his marching orders.
The teenager had been cautioned in the first half for a late challenge as the Rams looked to break, and he saw another flash of yellow, which quickly became red, for waving an imaginary card in response to referee Jacob Miles’ decision to award a foul in his favour.
United were up against it from that moment on, and Louis Watson edged the visitors into the lead on the hour mark, converting Kornell McDonald’s cutback.
Cresswell then struck again after Devine had done well to halt Ebosele in his tracks, and the Rams could have had a fourth late on only for substitute Charlie Savage to clear Jordan Brown’s goalbound header off the line.
So ends another Under-23 season and it’s one that has been rich in entertaining football, packed with goals and succeeded in providing a perfect platform from which the lads can make the major leap into the senior squad.
The only real negative aspect of the whole campaign is that sadly our supporters, and also our opponents’ fans, were prevented from attending the games.
United finish eighth in the table, although ultimately we were only four points away from third-placed Tottenham Hotspur in what was a tight league.
United: Mastny; Wellens, Taylor (Fernandez 63), Fish, Devine; McCann, Helm (Savage 33); Shoretire, Hansen (Forson 63), Hannibal; McNeill.
Substitutes not used: Mee.
Goals: Hannibal 26 | Cresswell 52, 69 Watson 60