Sunday, 21 January 2018

20/01/18 Review: Stoke City U18 vs Manchester United U18

Stoke City U18 2-4 Manchester United U18 (Under 18 Premier League)
Clayton Wood

An Under 18 Premier League match on a Saturday morning in Stoke is the perfect way to get an early football fix and on this occasion it proved to be a happy memory during a 2-game day that also included a visit to AFC Fylde's Mill Farm to see the team I support lose 0-6. But, enough about that for now, let's talk about this 6th vs 3rd placed battle at Clayton Wood. I arrived at Stoke City's first class training facility, conveniently located just off the A500, at around 10:30am and after being shown to the over-spill car park I was ready to check out the venue where Darren Fletcher, Peter Crouch and the rest of the gang spend their time training with new manager Paul Lambert. Having been to see the Young Lions at St. George's Park last year during EURO Under 19 Qualifying, I am pretty familiar with the subdued and often awkward setup of these games in which the spectators are 99% made up of coaches and parents of the players, so when I, the 1%, turned up and parked up I was instantly approached by a man in a hi-viz jacket and asked if I was a scout. Donning my Macc Town top, I simply replied with "no", but in my head I was thinking of giving a sarcastic answer about how I was here to steal all of their Premier League youth players and take them down to my National League side, but at fear of being told to leave I thought better of it.

Kids game, suppose the Ice Cream van is apt
With the rain now drizzling down and the usual sodden Stokey climate being maintained I began my wander around the facility, taking in the sights of football pitches, football pitches and more football pitches. This was, of course, no surprise being at a Premier League training complex and I soon made my way over to the main pitch where the subs were warming-up as the camera crew climbed the ladders on to the overlooking metal structure which sat between two miniature covered stands, ready to keep mum and dad sheltered. The one stand was pretty well-filled with Potters fans and so I decided to take sanctuary in the other as the teams came out ready for kick-off, at which point a few additional travelling followers joined me for this clash which could see the Red Devil juniors go top of the league, ahead of Liverpool and Manchester City- as if they didn't already have enough motivation. Despite this, I'd predicted a 2-2 draw today and I had faith in the mid-table young Potters to give it a good go.

A view of the stands in all of their tiny glory
The sides were both fairly unrecognisable to me as kick-off loomed, with only former Le Havre academy starlet Abdoulaye Toure standing out for the Potters- and there was no sign of United's stand out player Angel Gomes for the visitors today. As one lady turned to her husband to exclaim "there's nout better than a wet Saturday morning in Stoke", we got the game started with the noise from the dual-carriageway providing the substitute for the usual sound of fans cheering their teams on. The opening 20 minutes were pretty much a stalemate in possession play and a battle to try and break each other down in front of a mass of watching coaches looking to find the next first-team prodigies. A hungry Kris Szerto had looked the best player for me so far, with the hosts winger operating well on both flanks periodically and showing that he can knock the ball about, meanwhile it was Dylan Levitt who was the centre of attention- and the pitch- for United. The young Welshman first tried to lob Mitchell Allen in the Potters goal from 25-yards, before registering a tame shot on target shortly after. Stoke also had their first chance just before the half-hour mark as the towering Nathan Collins jumped up to a header from a corner, but this effort was again easy for the keeper to gather. Although there were few highlights so far, the game had at the very least been pacey and end-to-end, so when Ethan Stanton went in the book for a typically Stokey slide tackle, the game was allowed a moment to breather just before the next big chance. Millen Baars, who'd been quiet thus far over in the United attack, picked up the ball over on the left and when he made a darting run straight for goal it seemed that none of the Stoke defenders could keep up- and when he got deep into the box, the Dutch youngster prodded the ball into the net confidently and opened the game's scoring account. Stoke 0-1 Man U. From then on it was all United in the remainder of the first-half and the Potters seemed intent on just getting to the break at one down, but this wasn't to be the case as Swiss forward Nishan Burkart found himself a bit of space in the box and lashed home with an unstoppable left-footed drive just before the half-time whistle. Stoke 0-2 Man U.

Half-time and United well in control so far
As opposed to my usual dash to the bar for a half-time beer, I spent the majority of the break stood waiting to use the only toilet available to the crowd whilst holding the door open for people to enter the Parents Lounge. Following this excitement, I popped over to grab some brunch from the burger van in an attempt to warm myself up from the dastardly conditions on-site and it was during this point that the match recommenced. Just four minutes into the second 45 and the third goal of the day had gone in, which I'd missed because I was busy staring at the griddle that was cooking my bacon and sausages. Stoke 1-2 Man U. Apparently the goal had been scored by the lad that had impressed me in the first-half, Szerto, and either way it meant that it was game on again with still 40 minutes of football to be played. Stoke remained a clever unit despite chasing the game and as they absorbed the United attacks at one end, they broke well at the other and when Toure went through in the 71st minute I stood up in anticipation of an equaliser- and he would have got it too if weren't for those meddling Man United kids, but the defender tracked back very well to concede a corner rather than a goal. The constant back and forth attacking displays had been a really great feature of today's match and the excitement from the breakfast butty came only second to the action on the pitch. Within seconds of each other, United hit the post over on my left and then Stoke won another corner from a lightning quick counter. Excellent football!

Into the last 10 minutes, still anybody's game
As the clock wound down I had one eye on a prompt exit, knowing that an 80-mile journey up to Lancashire was in store for the 3pm kick-off at Mill Farm, but I couldn't bring myself to leave early as the match was just that good. Man United had made a couple of changes on the attacking front and these fresh lads seemed eager to impress, with Belgian Largie Ramazani seeking out a chance and applying a finish in the 85th minute that looked to end the competition and secure the points for the boys in black. Stoke 1-3 Man U. The sleet started to fall as Allen lined-up a kick for the Potters and with a poor clearance the door was open for another sub, Mason Greenwood, to fire home a fourth which would have been a harsh end to an evenly-fought game between the two sides. Stoke 1-4 Man U. The final five minutes had now provided us with two goals and in injury time we were yet to see another as this time Stoke were given a big chance from a push by a Man U defender on a home team forward. Up stepped Szerto again and he applied a good finish to end the first of two six-goal games for me on the day. Stoke 2-4 Man U. The whistle blew shortly after and that was my cue to jump in my car, warm my numb toes up and head up to the North-West with hope of seeing a big away win for my beloved table-topping Silkmen.... yup.

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