Academy Review: United labour past spirited Wigan

David Pritt

Could this crop of United youngsters do something that recent players were expected to do?

Players in recent years have been expected to lift the FA Youth Cup and bring it back to the trophy room at Old Trafford, players such as Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner, Dylan Levitt and Brandon Williams. The U18 team that featured these player and more were expected to do big things in the United Academy with the pinnacle winning The FA Youth cup which has made United ‘s Academy historically famous. In the past five seasons United have failed to get past the fifth round having been knocked out in the 4th round twice and failing to get past the first obstacle twice, but this current crop are only 2 wins away from the biggest prize in English Youth Football. 

Neil Ryan’s side have already disposed of Linclon City, Norwich City and Leeds United and had a tricky tie to Wigan Athletic who had beaten both Tottenham and Birmingham to get their opportunity at Old Trafford. 

Having scored 3 of United’s 5 goals up to this point, it was bad news for striker Dillon Hoogerwerf who was still injured after picking up a knock in the previous round against Leeds after scoring the winner. This gave an opportunity to Deji Sotona who has 2 goal in 7 starts in the league to show that he is capable of leading the line.

Hannibal Mejbri has impressed since joining from AS Monaco in the summer.

There was a familiar name on the Wigan Team Sheet with James Carragher ,son of Liverpool defender Jaime Carragher commanding the defence and it took a good move from United to break them down, Deji Sotona was quick and strong on the right wing and out muscled Louis Isherwood before passing the ball to Charlie Wellens who laid it off to Shola Shoretire who got it on to his right foot and buried it past Sam Tickle into the back of the net to put United ahead. They had a great chance to double their lead when a corner came in and Ben Hockenhull rose to beat it but unfortunately for him his header glanced past the post.

Wigan had a couple of chances but Ondřej Mastný did well twice with a good save and was brave to come rushing out to win the ball and taking a knock. But it wasn’t the end for Wigan in the first half when Sean McGurk hit a venomous shot of the crossbar to put Wigan level and give them a chance. Half time came and both teams were playing well but Ryan Neil would have been more confident out of the two managers.

The first 5 minutes of the second half were pretty action packed with almost a disastrous start for Wigan when one defender tried to clear it but the ball hit off the other centre back and the ball looked destined for the bottom corner but Tickle did well to prevent the own goal. 

Not too long after Ben Hockenhull played a long ball over the top and the speed and strength of Deji Sotona showed as he held off Carragher and puts it into the top corner with his left foot to put United back ahead. There were other opportunities with the best chance falling to Mark Helm who’s vicious shot just went wide.

FA Youth Cup v Wigan
United were made to work for their 2-1 win over Wigan Atheltic in the FA Youth Cup.

The second half really brought the best out of captain Teden Mengi who was a real rock at the back. The 17 year old controlled the defence with brilliant challenges knowing when to smash the ball or play it out from the back. He was the real stand out player showing that he will be ready when called for in the first team or a loan. United saw out the rest of the game and now only need to win 2 more games to lift the trophy.

The Semi Final will take place away from home to Chelsea who have been the dominant team in the Youth Cup in recent years having won it 5 years in a row from 2014-2018. Since last season the the format of the competition changed after having both the Semi Finals and Final over 2 legs with each team playing home and away.

 I can see the good side to it but the bad side, there is a huge disadvantage to the way team in the Semi and Final having to play at the opponents ground. The ideal situation would be to either make the Semi’s over 2 legs again and the final at a neutral ground or have both the Semis and Final at neutral stadiums, either way if United win the competition they will have to play the next 2 games in their opponents ground.