Rewind back to August 15. The reserves first game of the season. A very experienced United side were beaten 2-1 away to Arsenal and one may have been forgiven for thinking that maybe the campaign ahead might be a bit of a struggle for this current crop of first team hopefuls.
From the reserve starting line up that day, seven of the eleven players would either be sold or sent out on loan during the course of the season. Something that must have caused a lot of problems for Warren Joyce, having to constantly chop and change his line up due to departures.
Fast forward eight months and this talented bunch of youngsters have deservedly won the title, already wrapping up the Premier Reserve League North with three games to spare. The key to this? Consistency.
Warren Joyce rarely tinkered with his line-up. He was not just about giving these young lads game time, he wanted to win. Joyce kept to his preferred starting eleven as much as possivle throughout the season, which was Amos / Vermijl / Keane / Fornasier / Fryers / Cole / Pogba / Petrucci / Lingard / Keane / Diouf. This XI very rarely let him down and Joyce knew exactly what he was getting when this eleven took to the pitch.
There were some magnificent games throughout the season: the 4-0 win over Liverpool and the 6-0 demolishings of Swansea and Newcastle spring to mind. But my match of the season is the reverse fixture of our 6-0 win over Newcastle back in January.
The reserves travelled to Newcastle knowing victory would clinch them the league title. Despite no team particularly dominating the game, United found themselves 3-0 down with 32 minutes gone. Two superbly taken Will Keane goals took the teams in level at half time and United went out in the second half with all guns blazing and perhaps were slightly disappointed they only scored six. This game epitomised what the club is all about.
There are many candidates candidates for this years ‘Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year Award’. For instance,Michael Keane has come on leaps and bounds since the start of the season. At first, I was shocked that such an average player had made his way up to reserve level. As the season developed,he really came into his own. He was the stalwart in the team,the leader at the back. Michael is great in the air,and is not afraid to attack. He has definitely been the most improved player this season.
Then there is his brother, Will. The lad who was born to score goals. He has made a huge a impression on me this season, with not only his goals tally but his all round play. He has great movement, makes very clever runs and has fantastic close control and his overall football brain is similar to that of a veteran.
The next candidate is Paul Pogba. He is “the” man, if you will. In my opinion, Pogba’s season has been inconsistent. He has been brilliant in some games yet average in others. Pogba is the type of player that when playing poorly, still has those moments of complete brilliance.
Then there is the man who I firmly believe should be picking up the award at the end of the season, Davide Petrucci. He has stood out head and shoulders above the rest for me. He is mainly utilised in a deep lying playmaker role and boy does he do it well. Petrucci is the Scholes of the team, if you will. He makes them tick. He always looks to get on the ball and make things happen. He always plays with his head up hitting passes, long or short, with the utmost ease. Not only has he been brilliant, he has been consistent. Every time I have seen him play I have said to myself that he is more than capable breaking into the first team.
A lot of credit must go to Warren Joyce and in particular, Rene Meulensteen. He ensured that the next group of youngster that come through the ranks are more technically gifted than those of previous years, not relying as much on English “lionheart” type players but those that can actually get the ball down and play football. This may be the first step on our journey to take down Barcelona.
All in all it has been a privilege to watch the reserves this season. Watching the young lads grow and develop as players, there is nothing like it. That moment when you watch a youngster take to the pitch and you know you are witnessing something special. That is a feeling that cannot beaten, that is what reserve football is all about. And hopefully for the few remaining games, some of the U18’s will be promoted to the reserves and we can watch the next batch of youngsters take their first steps in their long journey for first team football.