It’s that time of year again and on a filthy night of rain and blustery winds in Altrincham, United’s U-18’s took on Portsmouth’s U-18’s to see who would go through to play West Ham at Upton Park in the next round. For the players, the game was an interesting proposition as Portsmouth are not a team they would have encountered before.
United have some very talented second year Academy players right now and on paper, this looked a comfortable home draw against a team who have been leaking goals and losing matches in their League Section this year. However, from the off, United were sluggish whilst Portsmouth looked busy, pressing United all over the pitch. Could be that their lack of games recently – this tie was twice frozen off – was working against them, though Portsmouth have been similarly hampered and it didn’t seem to affect them
In time, however, United gradually established control with Ryan Tunnicliffe and Paul Pogba increasingly influential in midfield. Up front though, strikers Will Keane and John Cofie were finding it hard to elude their markers, so it was perhaps no surprise that when they finally broke through just short of the half-hour, it was a long-range strike that undid all Portsmouth’s hard work.
Pogba scored it and what a gem it was, curled in at pace from about thirty yards out and leaving Portsmouth goalkeeper Tom Fry grasping at air. A bona fide screamer. The young Frenchman continues to impress with his strength and power, combined with some cute ball skills for such a big guy. Last year, I had him pegged for a first-team debut, but it never happened. With United out of the League Cup it may not happen this year either; Fergie is unlikely to use the likes of Pogba & Will Keane in the FA Cup whilst the Youth Cup run continues.
Paul Pogba; influential throughout plus a great goal
United upped the pace after half time and with the stands full of footballing royalty – Sir Bobby, Fergie, Wilf and Paul McGuinness, Mike Phelan, David Gill and, erm, Peter Reid in a dodgy fedora – they began to press Portsmouth back, forcing a succession of corners. From one of these, ‘keeper Fry came to the near post to collect, but succeeded only in deflecting the ball into his own net.
2-0 rapidly became 3-0 following a typically incisive run from the fast-improving Tunnicliffe, who fed Will Keane on the edge of the area. The Stockport-born striker danced round a couple of challenges before blasting home a left-foot piledriver from about 10 yards out.
Ryan Tunnicliffe – strength and power from midfield
United’s dominance was now pretty much complete and Keane could have had a hat-trick. First brother Michael’s raking through ball set him free in the centre-forward channel and he raced through to score only for the referee to uphold a highly dubious offside decision. Then a similarly impressive pass from Pogba found Larnell Cole bursting clear down the right wing. Keane slid home Cole’s low cross at the near post but this time had strayed offside.
With 15 minutes left for play, Will Keane won a penalty following a typically impressive piece of sleight of foot inside the area. Having missed his last penalty, he handed the task over to Dutch winger Gyliano van Velzen. Van Velzen scored with his first attempt, but Cole had encroached by about 5 yards before the kick was taken. Fry dived to his right to cling on to the retake and somehow it was still only 3-0.
United being United, you almost knew what was coming next. First, United made three substitutions, with Cole, Michael Keane and Michele Fornasier giving way to Jesse Lingard, Zekky Fryers and Alberto Masacci. Fryers – a full-back by choice – was stationed at centre-back and was probably slightly culpable as Portsmouth’s most impressive player, Australian Ryan Williams, darted through a static defence to score 10 minutes from time.
If that goal was unfortunate Portsmouth’s second, coming on the 90-minute mark, was a personal catastrophe for United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone who had been virtually unemployed all night apart from the odd backpass. As the game ticked on into added time, Johnstone unfortunately allowed Williams’ accurate but unremarkable shot from the angle to beat him on his near post. All of this was a bit irritating after United had been so dominant, but it was also a little more alarming once you took into account the fact that Portsmouth had drawn a recent game with Leicester 5-5, having been 5-0 down with only eleven minutes to play.
Happily, there was to be no repeat as United played out time.
Those who would have impressed the watching Ferguson would really be the usual suspects, who basically form the spine of the team. Tom Thorp and Michele Fornasier were great at centre-back, Pogba & Tunnicliffe ran the midfield, whilst Keane and John Cofie threatened increasing danger as the match wore on.
A victory and a trip to West Ham in Round 4, then, but they will need to cut out the sloppiness that gave Portsmouth an undeserved ray of hope at the end of the match.
Finally, many happy returns to Michael & Will Keane, who turn 18 today.
And they’re still having to wear matching outfits…..Somehow, I sense that the photographer has failed to put Michael (L) and Will Keane (R) at their ease……Happy Birthday, boys…