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The Academy: United 3 Wolves 3

Forget the result, forget United are still without a league win in 2012, forget they led this game 3 three times only to be pegged back after each goal, forget all three Wolves goals were conceded via set-pieces; this was one hell of a performance and an exciting game that could’ve gone either way although, as biased as it might be, I reckon United probably edged the right to be the more disappointed they didn’t walk away with all three points.

Goals from an incredibly lively and responsible Sam Byrne and one each for two players who could hardly get into the game, should have been enough to seal the win today but, some great deliveries and some misfortune cost United after they battled bravely to defend their goal from start to finish.

United started the brighter of the two teams. Gyliano van Velzen and Sam Byrne were quickly into their stride and the former was in inspired form.

The opening 15 minutes saw United open up Wolves’ defence at will and create chances to take the lead, none were more clear-cut than that of James Wilson after just a few minutes when he raced clear but failed to find the net after sliding his finish beyond the keeper but wide of the right hand post. That should’ve been 1-0 but on another day I’m sure Wilson makes the most of the opportunity. Wilson struggled to get into the game after that and along with Kenji Gorre played only a supporting role in United’s play throughout the game, that suggestion via Twitter would come back to haunt me later on!

Throughout the season it’s been apparent, or so I and others thought, this group doesn’t possess any fullbacks hence why Hendrie and Ekangamene have plugged the gaps right and left for the majority of the season. When Donald Love emerged it became clear we were wrong, we did in fact have a very promising rightback at least but his raw and eager temperament was obviously being harnessed by McGuinness before we lost him to injury. That was that, we were back to plugging the gaps and that included utilising James Weir there too. Fast forward to today (and also think back to the WBA game away a few weeks ago) and it’s now obvious we actually have two more natural fullbacks……in fact all of a sudden we’re spoiled for choice!

Louis Rowley gave a good account of himself at WBA a few weeks ago and the same can be said for Liam Grimshaw last week in the Derby, today they went a step further again and both produced really impressive displays of tackling, awareness and determination both in possession and out of it.

It was thanks in part to the endeavours of Rowley that the first goal came about. He and GvV were linking up well down the left and giving Wolves a huge problem, Louis twisted and turned while he tried to get his bearings on the edge of the box, he eventually found them and heard GvV screaming for a pass, when Louis found him GvV skinned his marker and delivered an undefendable ball into the near post where Sam Byrne timed his run to perfection, jumped up with his two feet tucked up and shaped himself to let the ball hit the outside of his right foot to beat the keeper from very close range. I’ll tell you something, Sam meant every bit of that finish and he was rightly chuffed with the outcome, after an extremely slow start for Sam he’s starting to find his feet and his form and starting to find those positions I’d been so critical of him not finding in the past, in return he’s getting his rewards.

GvV was having so much joy down that left flank that Wolves were soon making alterations. Both teams set-up with a straight 4-4-2 but unusually it seemed like Wolves had tasked their right midfielder (No7) to mark GvV instead of handing over the responsibility to the right fullback, it was a tactic that didn’t work and the No7 was quickly swapped with No11 because he was powerless to halt GvV and beginning to get erratic. In fairness the alteration brought about a more evenly balanced contest but the damage was done and despite Wolves’ best efforts and periods of sustained pressure which saw them have a shot blocked by Ioannou, Matty Wilkinson clear one off the line and a stinging shot come back of the post, United’s makeshift defence stood firm and put their bodies on the line to keep the score at 1-0 going into the break.

Before the match my preview focused on who might or might not start the match in defence dependant on McCullough’s availability, turns out that none of it was anywhere near what was going through the managers mind, he instead opted to rest important players for Wednesday night’s more important cup tie rather than use today as an opportunity to shape his team selection. Luke was there today but only on the sidelines with Tom Lawrence and Joe Rothwell so who knows what his availability is for Wednesday. In his absence though Ioannou stepped up again and gave another trojan like performance that showcased his strengths of intercepting, his positional awareness and his bravery, personally I think he’s a shoo-in for Wednesday night no matter who’s alongside him. To bolster this thought the Manager was happy to field Ioannou alongside (in my opinion) the unfancied Matty Wilkinson at centre half today, Matty goes about his business quietly and quite effectively but doesn’t figure often enough to suggest he’s in too many of the managers plans, thus giving more credence of the trust he has in young Ioannou.

In the second half Wolves switched to a 4-3-3 formation (with the ball) and quickly found themselves on level terms. An inviting cross delivered from a short corner allowed Whittall the freedom to put his considerable height advantage to good use deftly redirecting the cross into the left hand corner of United’s net. United hadn’t come out for the second half (not literally) after the officials kept everyone waiting for 5 minutes, but that was about to change, the equaliser woke them up and United now took control of the game and this surge of self belief that’s becoming so evident throughout the whole group regardless of who takes to the field was about to become evident again today, but for some awful luck from two more set pieces the game was theirs for the taking.

Rudge had replaced the hard working Ekangamene (who looks to have benefited hugely from his prolonged spell of games but just lacks a little composure to really allow him the time he needs on the ball) at halftime in a like-for-like swap. Defensively Rudge made no difference to United but going forward he offered more support around the edge of the box making runs [in and out of possession] that really helped the team shift the opposition around. It was Rudge who cleverly created United’s second after a cute backheel found it’s intended target of Kenji Gorre who moved further into the box but began to lose control, the ball was there to be hit by someone and that someone was James Wilson who out of nowhere drilled it left footed past the keeper giving United a deserved 2-1 lead. The chance was more or less Wilson’s first since spurning his big chance in the first few minutes of the game and it was also his last…..sign of a good player in the making maybe?

Minutes later Wolves were level again as a corner literally *hit* Louis Rowley on the knee/thigh and beat both keeper and defender on the line to make the score 2-2, there’s not a lot you can say when that happens, it was just mightily unfortunate.

True to the nature of this game United went straight up field and Sam Byrne spurned a half chance to retake the lead but couldn’t quite reach a cross from the left despite his best efforts.

Ioannou was replaced by the returning Declan Dalley, no idea where he’s been or why he’s been out for so long but it was a welcome return for the young Welsh centre back who now faces a tough task securing a spot in the team until at least next season.

As usual there’s one of those comedy moments that are becoming all to familiar and public every week just around the corner. With about 20 minutes to go Jack Barmby was stripped and ready to come on, I thought….this’ll be Kenji Gorre coming off as he’s been fairly innocuous and unable to get in the game despite switching wings with GvV in an attempt to make the most of Wolves’ obvious weakness there. I tweeted that the only player not to impress so far today was Kenji because ‘he just can’t get into the game’…..five minutes later Kenji picked the ball up on the left, worked himself nicely into the box on the left corner and bent a wicked shot around everyone including the keeper and the ball nestled nicely in the bottm right hand corner…..I’m sure I saw Kenji wink at me after that! #typical #cuepeopletakingthepissontwitter

Surely that was it, United had made all the running and done all they could to take the points and more importantly create momentum to build on during the week in readiness for Wednesday night, but no, it wasn’t to be. In fact, looking back now the boys were never going to win the game….it was just one of those days.

With 10 minutes remaining Louis Rowley went down injured conceding a freekick, the referee ordered him off the field and directed Wolves to take the freekick, they swung it in and panic insued in the United box, in the melee it looked like they might clear the free ball from the near post but it somehow made its way over the line and in for 3-3, the goal has subsequently been awarded to Ifil but he can’t have known much about it, a scruffy goal to concede after a fine performance by an experimental side that looked unlikely to compete when the teamsheets were handed out before kickoff.

Fantastic game and more positives, if I’m being super critical I’d suggest the result might have been different had Sutherland been in goal rather than Jacob, that isn’t to suggest Jacob did a lot wrong today but if we think back a few weeks I remember suggesting there was definitely something about goalkeepers and their uncanny ability to be lucky or unlucky……no surprise then that with Jacob in goal two of the three goals were ‘unlucky’.

Anyway, on to Wednesday and the visit of Charlton Athletic in the FA Youth Cup. Kickoff will be 7pm I imagine and selecting a team just became significantly more difficult for the manager as he ponders on what must’ve been a really great bonus for him today.

Player Ratings: Jacob 6, Rowley 9, Ioannou, 8, Wilkinson 7, Grimshaw 8, Hendrie 8, Ekangamene 7, GvV 9, Gorre 7, Wilson 7, Byrne 9
Subs: Rudge 7, Barmby (not on long enough), Dalley 6

Ian. (@Rimmerstweets)