The free-scoring Manchester United under 18s went into today’s game with the chance to go top of the Premier League North U18s division. It was their last of the season.
United started with a midfield three, Charlie Savage sitting in defensive midfield, while Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Zidane Iqbal roamed further forward. 22 goal danger-man, Charlie McNeil started up front again.
United began the game passing well. Three minutes in, Hansen-Aaroen picked it up on the left and dribbled through three defenders into the box. He passed it on to Iqbal who dropped his shoulder and struck just wide.
Several minutes later, against the run of play, Middlesborough broke into United’s box. Eight goal Pharrell Willis got in behind from a good run but his powerful shot was well saved by Radek Vitek.
It was an early warning for United but they responded well. Iqbal and Hansen-Aaroen created havoc and the Reds started to pepper the goal.
In the 12th minute, United got the first goal. Left back Alvaro Fernandez played a good ball over the top down the left flank into the path of Hansen-Aaroen. The 16 year-old Norwegian carried it into the box and picked out Iqbal arriving late into the box. He slotted it in low from near the penalty spot.
United controlled possession after that. Savage, and a high defensive line, won it back quickly and the attacking players strung plenty of passes together in the final third.
The next, deserved, goal for United came on the 33rd minute. After a nice passing triangle on the right wing between Savage, Omari Forson and right back, Charlie Wellens, Wellens found space to cross. He swung it over the Middlesbrough center backs to where Dillon Hoogewerf had ghosted in from the left. He headed it down and in. It was the diminutive forward’s third header in as many games.
Not long later, Hoogewerf had another. The midfield three linked up well again. Savage played it out to Hansen-Aaroen, popping up on the right this time, who then played a through-ball to Iqbal on the right inside the box. He carried it towards the goal and dead-ball line with his head up, before picking out Hoogewerf, who had pulled back to the edge of the 6 yard area. Hoogewerf slotted it low into the left side of the goal.
Inevitably, McNeill got one, just before half-time. An attempted clearance from defence was deflected back into the path of McNeill on the left in the box. The ever-alive striker latched on and drilled it with his left foot into the top right corner.
Four nil at the break.
It only took two minutes into the second half before United made it five. In the attacking midfield role, Hansen-Aaroen cleverly picked out a good run by Hoogewerf who then turned on it and drove for goal from the left. He curled it in past the goalkeeper with his right foot. It was the 47th minute.
Five minutes later, Middlesbrough scored a consolation. They had pressed high and United’s Vitek played a wayward pass. The giveaway was passed to Willis on the right inside the box and he lashed it past the onrushing Vitek.
Following that, former Atletico Madrid youngster Alejandro Garnacho came on for Hansen-Aaroen.
On the 65th minute, Middlesbrough made an error of their own, passing at the back. McNeill again latched onto a loose ball and was through on goal but was tripped. Penalty.
McNeill stepped up to take it and slotted it into the right of the net as the keeper dived the other way. United had six.
Middlesbrough then had a period of better play as United eased off a little. They missed a big chance on the 73rd minute when Alex Hutchinson headed just wide from close range after a good cross from the left.
Despite some good Middlesbrough forays, United scored again. Driving down the left, Garnacho cut back onto his right and inside. He switched it to the right side of the box, the ball just evading the lungeing defender, where McNeill was waiting. The striker smashed it accurately into the top left corner for the second hat-trick of the game and his 25th goal of the season.
United looked like scoring from almost every attack. They made it 8-1 on the 85th minute. Hoogewerf picked it up in a pocket of space towards the left and played it into the feet of Garnacho. The young Spaniard turned and drove to his right, before hitting it low and in, through a defender’s legs.
Forson nearly made it nine, with three minutes to go, after Savage popped up by the left corner flag and dug out a good cross. Forson’s near-post header came off the post.
It was United’s highest scoring game of the season after one full of goals, but they will still be hoping that rivals Manchester City will drop points in their game-in-hand on Wednesday in a game that will decide the title.