In a repeat scoreline from earlier in the season Manchester City capitalised on a lazy first half performance from Manchester United that saw them head into the break with a comfortable looking two goal lead.
United came out stronger and upped the tempo in the second half and immediately began to give City problems. After pegging their rivals back with a well worked goal from Luke Hendrie United pushed forward looking for an equaliser, but Devante Cole muscled his way to a close range finish that ultimately sealed a 3-1 defeat for United as they searched for their first win in the league in 2012.
Although I say ‘searched for their first win of 2012’, I think we actually knew coming into this game that here wasn’t the ideal place to be coming to find that win and we certainly knew not to expect it. City are in decent form this season and look a well balanced, determined outfit. Their quest to win the Academy League title this season meant they were obviously going to come after a physically inferior United side right from the first whistle, that United failed to get started until the second half is a little bit worrying for me although I guess excuses could be offered thanks to the stop-start nature of their fixtures over the last 6 weeks.
A lack of movement from United meant players were given no option but to attempt to run with the ball or dribble their way to safety in their hunt for a teammate, more often than not that led to a loss of possession. The defence played deep and so too the midfield leaving Byrne isolated up front, Barmby and GvV pushed out wide to offer long range options but were both guilty of losing possession far too easily, Jack especially as he attempted his repertoire of fancy flicks to pass to players instead of putting his foot on it and releasing the pressure on the team. To be fair to Jack his performance in the first half was unusual for him but, with his tendency to get frustrated when things aren’t going quite right he’d be better advised sticking to the simple stuff if only to avoid the many unnecessary petulant spats he has with himself.
It didn’t take City long to take advantage of United’s lethargy. An attack down the left ended with a well drilled cross deflecting into the net off an unlucky Nicolas Ioannou on 7 minutes.
As the half wore on United began to create half chances as van Velzen began to beat his marker. Hendrie and Rudge were busy in central midfield, Ioannou in defence too. Ekangamene did well backing GvV up down the left flank in possession, but out of possession his positioning was again causing the team problems. Liam Grimshaw returned to action at rightback after a long spell out through injury and understandably looked nervous and under pressure. Blackett began to get frustrated with the lack of options in front of him and felt obliged to play the ball out of defence.
It was on one such occasion Tyler played himself into trouble on the edge of the box, he lost possession and left Ioannou in a 2v1 situation. Ioannou did what he could but he couldn’t avoid Rusnak and Cole finally creating a shooting chance which was brilliantly saved by Jony Sutherland who reacted well to recover, get to his feet and save the rebound to force a corner.
Shortly after that though Sutherland was powerless to save a finish from, in my view, City’s man of the match, Albert Rusnak.
United were on the attack and won themselves a corner. The corner was cleared high and long, Charni was under it but you could sense he wasn’t comfortable, he allowed it to bounce and got pressured into conceding a throw-in which was taken quickly. The speed of the throw-in prevented United regrouping which allowed Devante Cole the space and time to slide a great ball through to Rusnak who clipped his first time shot effortlessly beyond Sutherland for 2-0.
United looked in trouble and but for the heroics of Sutherland could easily have been further behind at the break.
No substitutions were made at half time but whatever McGuiness said to the lads he definitely got a positive response from them. To a man they upped the tempo right from the start, they played closer together and worked hard to create space and options for one another. Daehli came alive after struggling to get into the game in the first half, Barmby began to get the ball at his feet and do what he does best and run at players getting them on the back foot.
On 58 minutes United finally reduced the deficit when a great bit of skill and a mazy run in a tight space on the right from Barmby finally got United in behind City’s tough, hard working defence. Barmby pulled his cross back from the byline into the path of Luke Hendrie who planted his finish past goalkeeper Lawlor. It was nothing more than United deserved after a dominant, energetic start to the half.
United were now attacking with purpose and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when GvV beat two players before being tackled in the box by what looked like a clumsy desperate challenge. The ref’s decision for a corner was instant and there weren’t many claims for a penalty so I’m presuming it was the right decision.
Although United were now competing and seeing a lot more of the ball in good areas City were still a threat and looked fairly comfortable. On 67 minutes they put the game to bed with an attack down their right which Charni failed to deal with. He allowed the cross and Devante Cole beat Ioannou to the ball to prod home from close range.
City’s third goal visibly took the wind out of United’s sails and though they tried to regain the momentum their goal had given them, they couldn’t force their way back on the score board. One fantastic piece of footwork and a powerful run from Liam Grimshaw saw United’s closest effort to add to their tally but his team mates watched on as his shot rebounded off the far post and out to safety with ten minutes remaining. After that United created no more clear cut chances and the match ended with the visitors beaten.
The result leaves United just a point from the bottom of Group C and still looking for their first league win of 2012. Th reds do have games in hand on the teams around them and also have yet to play Crewe away who sit a point behind them.
Despite the result today I think the team as a whole will take away a great deal of experience. I think they’ll learn they can’t amble through any half and expect not to be punished, I’m sure next time out McGuiness will be looking for the usual fast start.
In the preview I suggested Sutherland would be busy and so it proved. With the arrival of Pierluigi Gollini his spot in goal for the academy could come under threat next season as both are highly rated. Jony’s only just got into the squad ahead of Liam Jacob who now appears to be out of favour after a series of costly errors. Jony showed great hands and positioning today as he was often tested from range by some decent shots. One or two he could only parry but he showed great speed and agility to pounce on the rebounds. He also displayed his eagerness to trigger attacks from throwing the ball out wide, every time he receives the ball while out of possession he drives straight to the penalty spot in an effort to pick out the wide men, great to see that aty such a young age, his confidence in his handling allows himself the option to think ahead. Personally I doubt this kid will get displaced next season but having not watched Gollini yet it’s impossible to predict that with any real conviction, however, if Gollini can/does displace him he must be one hell of a keeper.
Other notable performances were Liam Grimshaw’s return. Yes looked nervous and gave the ball away under pressure but to be fair to him he was returning to a side that produced its worst performance in terms of effort in a long time. Tyler usually helps everyone around him but today seemed preoccupied with getting forward more so than sweeping up behind him. Ioannou is young and Charni is positionally a bit of a liability for Blackett at left back, there’s only so much one player can do to cover all three for 90 minutes. Blackett has accomplished this in the last few weeks in the absence of McCullough but the lack of movement in front of him just made his task that little bit harder.
United now move on to another tricky fixture when they host Wolves at Carrington next Saturday. Wolves trounced a makeshift United team earlier in the season 5-2 before United ironed out their simple recurring mistakes and their vulnerability on the counter. I’m not 100% sure but looking at the league tables it appears that Bolton surprisingly took all three points at Wolves yesterday to dent their title hopes. None-the-less, Wolves are a powerful group with some talented individuals, it will be a tough task, hopefully we might see the return of McCullough, if we did I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ioannou keep his place and Tyler shift to the left……but that’s for next week, I’ve rambled enough.
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