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The Academy: Stoke City v United – Preview

With Christmas now a distant memory, United travel to Stoke City’s Clayton Wood training facility/Academy for their second Academy League fixture of 2012 hoping to distance the memory of a poor last performance.

Last weekend saw United held to 3-3 draw in an exciting but error packed game against bottom of the league Bolton Wanderers at Carrington.

I’m sure the manager will be expecting to see certain improvements and proof that his team can learn from their mistakes before the somewhat more important FA youth cup tie against Derby County at Moss Lane on Wednesday night.

Despite what this season’s lowly league position might suggest, this team has excited us all season and played well in almost every game to date. Their points tally is weaker than their football deserves, but on reflection this is purely down to being punished for almost every mistake they make.

Turn Errors into Experience

Ex-Liverpool keeper Liam Jacob is slowly improving this season but three glaring mistakes have all been punished. Against Liverpool away his misjudging of a cross quite literally ‘hit’ Liverpool’s Matty Regan and went in for the second in a 2-1 victory for them. Then Liverpool’s Jack Dunn easily beat him at Carrington when caught bizarrely out of position in the first few seconds of the game. Then there’s Saturday’s wind-assisted freekick he again misjudged but made a valiant effort to rectify and tip over the bar. No surprise that too fell just below the bar and in. (shakes head at his unbelievable luck) Not only are his mistakes being punished with goals but on paper the results have hinged on them. What is it they say about a lucky goalkeeper?

Then there’s the two centre midfielders playing as fullbacks. In fairness Charni Ekangamene has improved tremendously so far this season after failing to impress last season. His major flaw in his new role is his positioning but he can certainly be forgiven that while he beds in.

Luke Hendrie has shown some real moments of class this season too, but all of them in centre midfield. Shame then, that he’s played the majority of his games at right back where he simply isn’t improving. Not so much bad luck or mistakes being punished with Luke it’s more his poor technique in that position, his natural eagerness to attack creates problems for himself and his team. No game highlights this more than Wolves away where United, and particularly Luke, were torn apart and allowed cross after cross to enter our box. That game ended 5-2 but again it felt like every mistake had been punished with a goal.

The central defence pairing of Tyler Blackett and Luke McCullough has been immense in recent weeks. Tyler again displayed his quality and desire last weekend by producing a performance that went some way to masking the unusually disappointing performance from partner McCullough.

By my reckoning Jack Rudge took ONE throw-in last Saturday and again it didn’t just serve to give the opposition a chance, oh no, of course it led to a goal as Bolton exploited the space vacated by Rudge and scored with an attack through the middle that you have to feel Rudge would negate had he left the throw-in to Luke Hendrie.

With so many individual errors being punished it would be nice if one or two team errors would go un-punished, but again on reflection there was a three game spell where an inexperienced lack of awareness coupled with this fantastic youthful desire to just get on the ball and play regardless of where on the pitch the ball is, saw Blackburn, City & Wolves all take full advantage on the break after being gifted possession and finding acres of space to break into.

United conceded 11 goals in 3 games during that spell culminating in the heavy defeat at Wolves which, for me, saw a change in the atmosphere. Manager McGuiness was visibly unimpressed (unsurprising in a 5-2 hammering I guess) during that game and at one point held his head in his hands after another simple, almost lazy individual error (this time from Ben Pearson) went punished late in the game. Since that day, and after a few serious words from the manager during the week that followed, United have won more than they’ve lost which has seen a steady increase in momentum and confidence. Hopefully, the concentration that was so lacking last time out was merely a blip and we’ll see a return of the verve and movement we’ve started to expect from this technically well educated crop.

One positive to take from the games however is that United have only been beaten within Group C by the top four teams (City, Wolves, Liverpool & Blackburn) who in fairness all look very strong, and that errors and bad experiences provides great experience, hence why I keep harping on about how important it is to learn from them, because if they don’t, they’ll just continue to make the same mistakes.

Stoke City are a team we often struggle to beat. Well organised and often defensive minded, Stoke can be tough to break down and look to hit teams on the break. If they opt for a similar tactic on Saturday, I think they’ll find United far more aware and able to deal with such a threat than they were earlier in the season and on the back of what is likely are tough week in training.

Stoke come into the game after what looks like a good point earned at Everton (2-2) last weekend but also 120 minutes of an FA youth cup 4th round tie versus Brentford LAST NIGHT (Thursday) so I expect another exciting spectacle from United against a team who will no doubt be feeling the effects of two games in 36 hours.

I don’t expect to see many changes to the United team that lined up last week although there must be a point where Declan Dalley returns, and James Weir needs a game. With the important cup game on Wednesday though, I doubt the manager will choose to do any of that jiggery-pokery tomorrow…….

Predicted Line-Up: Jacob / Love, Blackett, McCullough, Ekangamene / Rudge Januzaj Daehli / GvV, Byrne, Barmby
Bench: Sutherland, Dalley, Weir, Gorre, Hendrie

Kickoff is at 11am but updates start at 10am ish from the centre by me @Rimmerstweets and no doubt some, if not all of these fanatical followers:

@PeterBolton3 @MrMujac @thisistheone99 @manutdreserves @ManUnitedYouth