Manchester United’s under 18s were looking to bounce back after an unexpected loss to Newcastle last week. Rivals Manchester City were only two points behind the Reds at the top of the Premier League North table with a game in hand and superior goal difference.
Coach Neil Ryan selected an unusual back four with the likes of Charlie Savage, Alvaro Fernandez (RB) and Martin Svidersky playing out of position there. Meanwhile, in midfield, Zidane Iqbal made his first start after returning from a long-term injury and a goal off the bench in the loss to Newcastle.
The combo of Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Iqbal in midfield showed their class early on. They carried the ball with skill and composure. It didn’t look like Iqbal had been away.
United were rewarded for their dominance in under ten minutes. With good awareness, Hansen-Aaroen turned on it in the middle and played a straight chipped ball into the channel for McNeill, who had peeled off the center-back. The Wolves goalkeeper, Arinbjornsson, came charging out but McNeill got his toe on the ball and poked it past and in. It was McNeill’s 18th goal in 18 starts and betters Mason Greenwood’s 17 at this level.
On the 20th minute, Wolves finally wrestled some possession from United and moved it around the final third resulting in a shot over the bar. However, it only seemed to spur United on.
McNeill put the ball in the net after latching onto a good through ball from Savage down the left flank, but it was flagged offside.
Soon after that, Dillon Hoogewerf played a quick 1-2 with Alvaro Fernandez, who drifted in from the right. With little back-lift, he got a shot away but it was just over.
Wolves pushed back causing trouble on the right and put in a high cross. United’s keeper, Vitek, caught it well, however.
Hansen-Aaroen broke up any Wolves momentum for the most part in midfield, showing that he can contribute defensively as well as in attack.
His midfield partner, Iqbal, doubled the lead on the 30th minute. After good short passing interplay on the right, McNeill’s slightly stray pass deflected into Iqbal outside the box. With a drop of the shoulder, he struck with his right and it was deflected in past the diving goalkeeper.
Iqbal’s class continued soon after with an outside-of-the-boot pass to Forson on the left wing. Forson’s following cross was just missed by McNeill in the 6 yard box.
Then, on the 34th minute, after a cute Iqbal through ball into the path of the overlapping Fernandez, Alejandro Garnacho lashed the cutback onto the upright.
Wolves were hanging on, but they couldn’t keep United out again before half-time. A minute before stoppage time, Wolves scuffed a clearance that fell to McNeill. His first touch was a pass and dart to Garnacho. The Spaniard turned on it quickly and moved it out to Forson’s run into the box from the left. Forson squared it for an easy tap-in at the back post for McNeill’s 19th of the season.
Wolves started the second half well, as if they had nothing to lose, and despite some brilliant moments of dribbling skill from United’s midfield two to beat the press early on, it was Wanderers’ best period of the match. They pressed better and started to overload Savage at left back before hitting the post on the 49th minute. Then, striker Chem Campbell had a shot skim off the crossbar and on the 55th minute, he won his side a penalty after a quick 1-2 in the United area.
Campbell hit the penalty low into the left corner while Vitek dived the other way.
It was a warning to United but they responded. Iqbal pinched the ball off of the Wolves midfield on the 57th minute and drove at the defence. Incredibly, he beat four defenders while carrying across and into the left side of their box and hit a left-foot daisy cutter into the corner of the net, past the wrong footed keeper. It was a goal of the season contender and sealed the victory.
United weren’t finished however and seven minutes later they scored again from a brilliant counter-attack. In space among a tired Wolves midfield, Garnacho carried it and got it out from under his feet to Hoogewerf on the left. The young Dutchman dragged it past the defender onto his left and drove it toward the top corner. Wolves’ keeper got a hand to it, but the shot was too powerful.
With 20 minutes to go, United took Iqbal off as a precaution and brought on under 15s player, James Nolan. United took their foot off the gas slightly for the remainder and Wolves had a couple of dangerous attacks, but Vitek in goal was solid.
Charlie McNeill again had the ball in the net near the end, after a lovely dink over the Wolves stopper, but it was offside once more. He, Hansen-Aaroen and Iqbal were brilliant on the day and kept United top of the table while increasing goal difference significantly.