A cold night in London’s East End as United’s U-18’s continued their F.A. Youth Cup odyssey with a 4th round tie at Upton Park against West Ham.
The United team was pretty much as expected; this is a team with a very strong ‘spine’ – Tom Thorpe and Michele Fornasier at the back, Paul Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe combative in midfield and John Cofie and Will Keane always a threat up front.
Both teams looked nervous in the opening 20 minutes, with the ball given away quite a lot. Pogba couldn’t seem to get on the ball and most of the United threat was coming down the right, where Larnell Cole was having a terrific game. United had achieved a measure of control, but even so, chances were at a premium . It therefore came as quite a shock when United took the lead after 34 minutes. West Ham failed to clear a United attack and Cole juggled the ball effectively before producing a dipping volley from around 30 yards which bounced just in front of the West Ham ‘keeper, then ricocheted up and off his chest, ballooning into the path of the marauding Will Keane, who produced an emphatic downward header to score. Unfortunately for the ‘keeper, his name is Sam Cowler, so his mistake was instantly dubbed ‘Cowler’s Howler’ by the MUTV crew.
The nearest West Ham came to scoring in the first half was a curling free kick from midfielder George Moncur (son of ex-Hammers midfielder, John) which Sam Johnstone tipped over.
The second half was a different kettle of jellied eels as West Ham began to apply more pressure to United’s defence. Still, clear-cut chances were few; American midfielder Sebastian Lletget, on as a substitute, probably had the best opportunity, steering the ball wide from about 10 yards out with the United net at his mercy.
United’s defence really came into their own during this period, with full-backs Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett giving good support to Thorpe and Fornasier. Johnstone also made a couple of brave interventions as the defence held firm. In fact a United break just before full-time almost led to a second goal; Cowler redeeming himself somewhat with a flying save to keep out a powerful volley from Cofie.
Michele Fornasier – for me, the Man of the Match
In injury time there was a moment of controversy as West Ham piled forward on the attack, a cut-back from the left byline found lively winger Robert Hall and his first-time shot definitely rebounded to safety from Michele Fornasier’s arm, but it would have been a very harsh penalty had it been awarded. The final whistle went shortly after that incident and United had squeaked through.
In truth, West Ham lacked a real cutting edge, but they were lively and combative in midfield and gave Pogba, Tunnicliffe et al a testing evening. United go through to Round 5, where they will face either Newcastle or Grimsby at home – which could be Old Trafford or more realistically, Altrincham.
Finally, it should be recorded that there were quite a few United fans who had travelled down for this game – serious extra brownie points to them; that takes some dedication on a chilly January evening! They formed part of a crowd of 1,405 , all packed into the West Stand.