United’s youngsters went into this 5th round tie at Altrincham’s Moss Lane ground tonight with two of their most potent weapons missing through injury. Will Keane and John Cofie have been enormously prolific this year, but both were confined to the sidelines tonight. Keane has a ‘dead leg’ but should be fit for the Academy game against City’s ‘Elite Development Kindergarten’ (or whatever they call it) at Carrington on Saturday. Cofie, meanwhile, had minor knee surgery on Monday and could be out for the rest of the season.
Not ideal in the light of the fact that Newcastle’s youngsters were unbeaten since October; however, they had required extra time to get past Grimsby in Round 4. Mind you, without Keane & Cofie, United had fielded an experimental front two of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Gyliano van Velzen in Saturday’s Academy game at Crewe and suffered a 5-1 thumping. Not surprising , therefore that Tunnicliffe was back in midfield for tonight’s game with Ravel Morrison playing in a free role behind Van Velzen.
Straight from the kick-off, United established a dominance that remained largely unchallenged for the duration of the game. It was founded on the midfield duo of Tunnicliffe and Paul Pogba, with Morrison dropping off to link play. These three have the look of future first-teamers and they can only have impressed the watching Sir Alex Ferguson. For all their dominance, though, United struggled to get the breakthrough that would undoubtedly have arrived if Cofie or Keane had been on the field. Van Velzen has made an uncertain start to his career in Manchester and only looked comfortable when drifting across to his natural position on the left flank.
Larnell Cole and Jesse Lingard occupied the wide positions but neither of them are the most robust of specimens and both were up against fairly rugged full-backs. As a consequence, they tended to drift inside too often, leading to a lack of width and major crowd scenes in the penalty area whenever United got close to the Newcastle goal. Even so, Lingard had United’s best early chance, blazing over from the angle when he should probably have hit the target. Morrison was ghosting around; one minute deep in midfield , the next wide on the left, forever probing for an opportunity. He it was who came closest to breaking the deadlock after 20 minutes with a sweeping cross-shot that glanced off the base of the post, then set up Tunnicliffe for a powerful shot that was hit pretty much straight at Newcastle goalkeeper Jak Alnwick.
Ravel Morrison in action
Goalless at the interval and it was hard to understand how that had happened, but it had been a similar story at Crewe on Saturday where United – again with no real strikers – created dozens of chances but only managed to take one, whilst Crewe created about seven chances and scored with five of them. The fear was that history was going to repeat itself and a couple of half-time substitutions plus a more organised approach from Newcastle in the opening minutes of the second period saw them gaining more of a foothold in the game. Even so, another melee in the Newcastle area saw Morrison poking a shot wide from about 10 yards out when he should have done better – sometimes you do feel that Ravel’s rather languid approach works against him. Still, that’s what they say about Dimitar Berbatov and he’s our top scorer.
As if to prove the point, it was Morrison who provided the game’s decisive moment after 64 minutes. Pogba chested a high dropping ball down to him about 15 yards from goal and he danced past a couple of challenges, then looked to have been driven too far to the left , before pivoting and sending an unstoppable left-foot shot flying past a bemused Alnwick and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
Newcastle tried to come back but found themselves in danger of going further behind as United concentrated on hitting them on the break. In the latter stages of the game, both Larnell Cole (twice) and the tireless Tunnicliffe went close but one goal was all United needed and they closed out the game in relative comfort.
Next up in Round 6, United face a short trip down the M62 to face those loveable scamps from Liverpool, which may well bring Will Keane and Tom Thorpe up against their England captain Connor Coady. The game is due to be played on February 26th. Should United survive that, there’s the possibility of a semi-final over two legs against Chelsea, though their 6th round opponents, Watford, may have other ideas. All in all, a dominant showing from United tonight but they need to get Will Keane (and hopefully John Cofie) fit if they are to win the tournament this year.