After three recent defeats, Manchester United Under 23s faced a Chelsea side who were unbeaten in seven.
Coach Neil Wood picked a strong side, with £18 million pound January arrival, Amad Diallo, and several others coming from time spent training with the first team squad into tonight’s game.
Chelsea started the match pressing furiously and caused United problems as they tried to play out from the back. Both teams probed until Chelsea hit a simple long ball between and behind United’s center backs on the sixth minute. Chelsea striker, Myles Peart-Harris, was clean through on goal but Brandon Williams recovered with pace from left back. Williams got a nick on Harris’ effort but the ball still spun towards goal. It dribbled teasingly past goalkeeper, Nathan Bishop, and into the corner of the net. It was a bizarre goal.
Despite the early setback, United fought their way into the game, winning balls well in midfield and stringing passes together.
Amad made some threatening outside-to-in runs and in a similar move to Chelsea’s goal, was through on goal. Chelsea keeper, Lucas Bergstrom, rushed out off his line to gather. He grabbed it just off of Amad’s toe but stumbled outside of his area.
After deliberation, the referee issued the keeper a red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
Possession then grew for United as expected, but resulting from a good breakaway on the 19th minute, Chelsea had a dangerous free-kick cross cleared crucially by Charlie Wellens.
It became a game of patience for United in trying to break Chelsea’s back five, but the blues still looked threatening at times on the break.
United’s front four were very fluid with each taking periods to play false nine and creative midfield.
Amad and Hannibal Mejbri in particular dropped deep often to pick forward passes but the Reds were largely frustrated. Chelsea looked comfortable.
United built pressure before half-time, however.
On the 45th minute, midfielder Charlie McCann, curled a ball into Shola Shoretire with his back to goal, against the defender. His excellent first touch and strength allowed him to roll the center back. He then chopped back inside and scooped it into the top corner with his left foot.
Suddenly, Chelsea were looking for half-time. Luckily for United, the referee inexplicably played six minutes of stoppage time and in the fifth of those, United took the lead.
McCann again split Chelsea’s defence with a slipped ball through on the left of the D. Shoretire took it beautifully on the turn and was instantly in behind. His left foot strike went over the keeper and in off the right post. It was another real center-forward’s goal.
2-1 at half-time. McCann was United’s best player.
United began the second half well. There was some brilliant one-touch interplay between Mejbri, Anthony Elanga and Amad, while McCann continued to probe.
Chelsea still looked a threat on the break and were strong on the ball. Valentino Livramento caused the odd problem down the right.
On the 64th minute, United were awarded a penalty. After a good, first-time ball from McCann into space on the right, Wellens whipped a dangerous cross in. Llivramento and Shoretire collided in the box.
Mejbri hit the penalty well, but it wasn’t far enough into the left corner and the keeper made a good low save.
Minutes later, Chelsea had a penalty shout of their own, but the referee saw Williams had won the ball in his tackle.
After a good run at the Chelsea defence, Mark Helm was awarded a free-kick, 20 yards out. Amad stepped up. He hit a powerful, whipped shot at the keeper’s side. It went in off the keeper’s glove. 3-1.
Disappointingly, Shoretire went off injured on the 76th minute, Martin Svidersky coming on. Five minutes later, United had another one. More one-touch passing down the right, with Elanga involved, left Svidersky in space. He crossed it well to a left foot tap-in from the arriving Helm.
After that, United toyed with Chelsea a little. Four minutes from 90, Amad faced up Chelsea’s defence from the right. With two stepovers, he made space in the box and shot well, drawing a good save.
Chelsea however, got a late consolation. Substitute, Henry Lawrence drove at United’s defence – who looked like they knew the game was won – jinked and hit a low, right foot shot from just outside the box that beat Bishop well.
Despite conceding late, United’s back four had played well. It was a needed win for United, who moved up to sixth in the Premier League 2 table.