Manchester United U21’s started their EFL Trophy journey away at Lincoln City. United earlier announced the numbers for the players involved in the tournament.
Coach Neil Wood at the beginning of the game was worried about United conceding earlier due to a young and inexperienced starting XI that consisted of: Mee, Wellens, Hardley, Fernandez, Svidersky, Savage, Mejbri, Mellor (c), McNeill, Shoretire, Hoogewerf Subs: Vitek, Jurado, Pye, Garnacho, Iqbal, Mather
Hardley was the only centre-back fit to play in the game meanwhile it seemed that the coach was playing in a back three of Wellens, Hardley, Fernandez. However, Lincoln started the game well, as Scully was quite dangerous early in the game. It seemed like United would suffer from the start as Svidersky was tasked to help the defence, but things just did not seem to go United’s way. Former academy player Poole was leading at the start of the attacks was moving brilliantly from the right.
Despite this, Fernandez was wary of any potential danger in the United box, helplessly as the young reds were inviting pressure early on. When United were finally moving forward, Hannibal Mejbri was usually starting the attack in a deep-lying position and as it has happened in many games last season and this one as well, he ended up getting fouled several times. Around the 23rd minute, Lincoln would go ahead through Scully who managed to find the back of the net after a cross that was not cleared well enough from Svidersky.
Yet again, United players were still trying to get something from the game where Shoretire and McNeill initiated attacks moving from both wings, however no end product at the end. After a few minutes, it was Charlie Savage who could have moved the ball towards D’Mani Mellor, but however Lincoln were quick to close down any chance United would create. As the 32nd minute was approaching, the young reds were moving forward looking for an equalizer, but a long ball finds Scully who cuts inside and finishes.
Confusion was clearly an issue as United players did not understand the type of set-up play coach Wood had in mind for the game. The players were isolated and physically it was a challenging first half for United. In the second half, Hannibal was dropped once again deep in midfield in United’s approach not to concede any more. Despite the first movements, Lincoln were still on top of their game, and once again Scully gets his hat trick with a ball over Wellens’ head with Mee left with nothing to do.
Frustration was all over the place for United as nothing seemed to be working for the youngsters. A problematic setup, a challenging game in physical terms, but they needed one spark to light up things again. Shola Shoretire managed to escape his opponent well enough to create some space for himself and play the ball through McNeill who makes no mistake in front of the goalkeeper. The coaches then decided to intervene as Hoogewerf and Mellor were substituted as they made place for Zidane Iqbal and 16-year-old Sam Mather, who made his U21 debut for United.
Things were finally clicking as the ball flow was better and our attack were successfully pressuring Lincoln City. It seemed that a comeback was finally on the way with Hardley scoring from a Hannibal cross. Confusion followed in the Lincoln penalty box as United were looking for an equalizer. As improvement late in the game was being made, it had to be another classical Mejbri situation where the player is sent off after receiving two quick yellow cards. Frustration, anger, and potentially a wake-up call for those in charge of the team, that things need to change. While this is the EFL trophy and the most important thing is experience in a difficult match physically, the no-balance lineups are off the charts and clearly out of place. A defence of three, with two natural left-backs and only one healthy centre-back. It is youth football, but someone needs to respond for the play of these youngsters.