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The Academy: Blackburn Rovers 3 – 2 MUFC

It’s always part of the script when you visit Brockhall Village so be prepared for a battle. Blackburn gave exactly that yesterday and came away with points after giving United’s considerably smaller lads a roughing up early on in the game and stamping their authority with two well taken, but somewhat gifted finishes in the opening 21 minutes. Despite the loss United will take positives from their performance in tricky conditions and against stiff opposition.

Joe Coll replaced Liam Jacob in nets and, having paid particular attention to him warming up, I tweeted that his “hands look slippery and he’s a bit nervous”, thankfully for him Blackburn came out all guns blazing and immediately began to press their height advantage in the box. A long throw-in was looking dangerous as it cleared our front defenders and Coll confidently met it and punched it to safety. Just what he needed to ease those pre-match jitters.

The rain eased when the game kicked off and the pitch looked slippery but not overly watered which was a testament to the ground staff and the setup of the pitch (raised up to allow water to drain) because the surrounding area was, as usual, sodden.

United settled into the game after a few minutes and began to knock the ball about under tremendous pressure. Blackburn’s closing down was relentless. I don’t think football should be a non-contact sport, but some of the tackles flying in during the game were simply unnecessary.

However, United generally receive protection from the officials (especially at Carrington), something that, unless you’re a supporter of the opposition, can be easily overlooked or under emphasised. From that point of view the opposition offered us the chance to determine just what this team’s made of. We know they can play, but can they cope with the physical approach that some lesser clubs believe will bring them success? I never saw anyone pull out of a challenge or hide yesterday. No one went off with a dubious injury or got frightened or intimidated. Great signs.

The worst of the fouls came in the 10th minute as John O’Sullivan scythed Tom Lawrence from behind. Tom showed quick feet but just lost the ball for a second, when he recovered it, he was taken out by a dangerous tackle from behind that inexplicably went unpunished. Tom got up, shook his head and got on with the game but he continued to be targeted throughout. He later released his frustration with a heavy tackle of his own on Blackburn’s right back but to be fair, he’d endured a marker all day and been subjected to plenty of unnecessary roughness. That didn’t appear to sway the referee though who rightfully awarded him a yellow card.

In the 15th minute United’s defence made a series of errors that led to the opener. Blackburn were pressing so far up the pitch United’s defence (including the keeper) didn’t have any time, panic’s the wrong word but all four were being rushed into decisions making mistakes. Coll put Hendrie in trouble and between himself and Barmby they couldn’t clear the danger. Declan Dalley miss-hit his clearance from a tame cross straight to O’Sullivan who skilfully strook it home from 20yds with a powerful right footed half volley.

It wasn’t only the defenders who were having a hard time, the midfielders had  no time either. Rothwell and Weir were outnumbered and United needed to bolster it. McGuiness chose not to change anything. As I was writing my next tweet about how there’s “no chance on Earth Blackburn will keep up this tempo” Jack Barmby gave away possession with some unnecessary flamboyance and yet another series of minor errors led to Blackburn doubling their lead.

Hendrie and Blackett were both out of position leaving McCullough and Dalley to deal with a rapid counter attack as Blackburn dissected Rothwell and Weir who were now struggling to recover their position and defend.

In fairness to Weir he did get back into the box as the cross was played but both he and McCullough left McLaren unmarked and he very accurately steered his header in off the far post for 2-0. Dalley should never have allowed the cross to come in in the first place, he afforded Haley way too much time and space. Not the greatest of starts for the big Irish centre back.

The remainder of the half saw United up their game and they showed real determination not to let the strong arm tactics of Blackburn steam roller them out of the game by half time. Byrne went close with a near post header but he couldn’t quite get his shape right. Lawrence showed some fantastically deft touches to create chances for both Byrne and himself but both efforts were blocked.

Luke Hendrie found himself in the book after United played a short corner which Lawrence lost, James Weir was out of position and couldn’t recover his man. Rothwell was in the box and Blackburn were again allowed to break through the middle with surprising ease leaving United 2v2 at the back. As a through travelled beyond Hendrie he had no choice but to attempt a tackle, he almost made it but was a little late and the referee had no choice but to show him the yellow card.

2-0 at half time possibly flattered United if I’m honest.

Understandably the second half slowed down but United had the better of it creating a few half chances for van Velzen, Byrne and Lawrence. But Blackburn struck first to extend their lead to 3-0 on 65 minutes. Not a lot to say about it really, again poor defending all round. Hendrie not getting tight enough and allowing the cross to come in. Dalley misjudging the flight of the ball and missing with his attempted header. McCullough slow to react when McLarens header came back off the post. A soft goal to give away really and with hindsight a poor goal to be beaten by.

Just prior to that Blackburn’s No9, Haley went in with his hip-first and a foot raised on keeper Coll after he nervously hesitated collecting a Blackett header. Ok, the keeper should’ve been stronger and more committed, but to hear the Blackburn coaching staff bemoaning the decision to award a foul and a yellow card was laughable. Yes he did have every right to go for the ball…..but not the way he did!

The highlights of United’s match were yet to come with Blackburn finally tiring and affording United some space outside the box. Lawrence, Barmby and Rothwell all started to find gaps and Tyler Blackett was also looking menacing on the overlap and you sensed a goal was coming even though it might be too little too late.

I thought Joe Rothwell had his least impressive game yesterday, but when a Tyler Blackett tackle on the left sent the ball kindly towards Joe he instantly shaped and feigned to go one way letting the ball move across his body and into the path of his stronger foot. He took a touch then hit a rasper that sailed in despite the keepers best efforts. 3-1 and United were showing real character and sensed Blackburn were content with standing off them now all the endeavour had sapped away their energy.

A few minutes later Lawrence conjured up another moment of magic after some neat play between himself and Blackett. He nudged the ball out of his feet and with very little back-lift he bent it over keeper into the far right hand corner. He’s really impressing this season and if he steer’s clear of any major injuries he’ll be the lifeblood of the team, the heartbeat that was so obviously missing last week.

Lawrence was replaced by Gorre for the final few minutes where United tried in vain to snatch a point from what could prove to be one of their toughest assignments of the season. It’s a shame this fixture wasn’t played later in the season after the boy’s had a gained a bit more experience. Blackburn wanted to win and they proved that by McLaren and one centre back (the name escapes me) who qualified under the Under 19 bracket. It’s a familiar story, no matter what level of football – Manchester United – is a big scalp. It’s something these young lads already know and deal with every week.

As if proof of that was required it’s on to next Saturday where we play the kings of raising their game to play United……it’s City at home.

Hopefully Dalley and Barmby will have learnt from their mistakes today and Van Velzen might find a way of influencing the game…..well, maybe not….but you never know!

Sam Byrne might start to work out where to be. When that penny drops I actually think he’ll be a decent striker. He needs efforts on goal to boost his confidence but he’s just not getting them so far because he’s never quite in the right place at the right time. My advice? Watch Hernandez, Owen and Will Keane… can’t go wrong.

United won’t come up against many teams with the ability to dominate a midfield like Blackburn or come up against many players with the quality of O’Sullivan. Yes the challenge on Lawrence was awful but those two were the standout performers.

I can’t make it to next week’s Derby so if anyone wants to have their say on the match feel free to contact me via email or Twitter(@Rimmerstweets), and as usual your comments good or bad on what I’ve said are more than welcome.

Team: Coll, Blackett, McCullough, Dalley, Hendrie, Rothwell, Weir, Lawrence, Barmby, Byrne, van Velzen

Subs: Gorre, Pearson, Rudge, Ekangamene.

Many Thanks to Arsenal2011Season and Aidan at