Manchester United were punished for their own recent success as they lost to Everton 3-1 in the Premier League 2 on Monday night.
Such has been the success of Neil Wood’s reserve side in recent weeks that his young squad were made to play without attacking starlets Amad and Shola Shoretire on a tough night in Southport. The absence of Hannibal Mejbri through injury didn’t make things any easier either.
However, with every cloud there is a silver lining and the absence of recognised first-team stars did at least allow the latest teenage prodigy Charlie McNeill to make his debut at U23s level.
Of those currently eligible for the reserve squad Wood found himself without 17 players at the Pure Stadium.
Nine of those have been loaned out to gain valuable match experience elsewhere, four of them were missing and two of them have been promoted to the first-team squad.
It got harder still when one of the most experienced players at his disposal, Arnau Puigmal, was forced off through injury just 16 minutes into the match with Dillon Hoogewerf replacing him.
The attacking talents continue to win the plaudits for United at youth level but captain Will Fish has been one of the biggest successes of the season now shining in the absence of centre-back rivals Teden Mengi and Di’Shon Bernard.
However, Fish is always better accompanied by something else on the side. “That was ****king class,” screamed Matej Kovar twenty minutes into the game as defensive partner Reece Devine slid in to deny a certain chance at goal. The early signs were encouraging.
Down the other end the bright Charlie McCann fired a vicious shot at goal, with only a sharp save from Joao Virginia prevented it from finding the back of the net.
Then came the sucker punch. Poor defending from Fish and Devine saw them carved open by a simple through ball, Everton captain Nathan Broadhead latched onto the loose ball and lifted beyond Kovar for the first goal of the game.
Wood was understandably furious as Everton began to turn the screw. United heads had dropped and there was little way through the opposition defence.
Everton favourite Leighton Baines was one of the select few watching on from the Pure Stadium main stand, he’d have been proud of the superb ball upfield from full-back Alvaro Fernandez as United turned defence into attack in the blink of an eye. It found Joe Hugill who ran into a blind corner and was soon suffocated of possession as frustration continued to grow.
United needed a moment of magic – and they got one. Galbraith gave the ball to McCann who ran to the edge of the box before he turned and fired a wicked shot at goal – this time beating Virginia. All level at the break.
Whatever was said in the dressing room initially seemed to work.
Hugill fired a low shot at Virginia within minutes of the restart before substitute Hoogewerf cut in from the right and drilled an effort at the bar.
Then a damning punishment as a quickfire double from Everton gave David Unsworth’s side a 3-1 lead.
First a low shot across goal from Broadhead for his brace, before the Welshman headed in unmarked from a corner minutes later for his hat-trick. The 22-year-old Everton striker was showing his experience at this level, it was something this young United side simply couldn’t match.
Although it wasn’t a day to remember for Hugill it was for fellow summer arrival Charlie McNeill – who replaced him as he came on for his U23s debut with twenty minutes left of the match.
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Manchester United made heavy weather of their 3-1 win over Newcastle, eventually getting the job done at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes were on the scoresheet as United got back to winning ways in the league. They have a Europa League second leg vs Real Sociedad on Thursday.
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McNeil netted four goals for the U18s in their derby win over Manchester City nine days ago, he’s another with a very bright future at the club and his promotion to the U23s set-up is one fans will eagerly be keeping an eye on.
In contrast to Everton, United had two 17-year-old’s to rely upon upfront, both juvenile by even reserve standards, but both are backed for much bigger things in the years to come. It’s hard to imagine either of them will be restricted to U23s level football when they’re at Broadhead’s age in five years time.
United could end up paying £1.5million for McNeil following his summer move from fierce rivals City, some fans would argue he has already repaid that by kissing the club badge when he celebrated his first against them just over a week ago. Club figures already labelled the youngster an ‘absolute bargain’ before he even kicked a ball at U18s level, the fact he is now playing for the U23s makes the deal that bit better.
His debut impact was limited to some clever link-up play with McCann as United’s late efforts to save the game soon slid away with a whimper.
A difficult night for Wood’s side against an experienced Everton team, but a reminder once again of the bright future’s for those wearing United red.