Manchester United’s Under-21s were back in action this evening after almost a month without a match and comfortably overcame Blackburn Rovers 2-0 in a match inspired by Wilfried Zaha.
The options available to Warren Joyce were reduced significantly when several regulars at this level went out on loan last week in Michael and Will Keane, Tom Lawrence and Ben Amos. That exodus caused a bit of a reshuffle and a few of this years Under-19 Youth League squad got the nod.
James Wilson, who turned 18 yesterday, started up front as the lone striker. Joe Rothwell joined Darren Fletcher and Fabio in midfield. New boy Saidy Janko was deployed in front of Guillermo Varela on the right wing. Charni Ekangamene moved to central defence and partnered captain Tom Thorpe. The squad was bolstered by Wilfried Zaha on the left hand side.
United dominated much of the play during the first half but struggled to break through the Blackburn defence. Rothwell took advantage of a poor throw out from Blackburn goalkeeper Matty Urwin, controlled the ball well and set up Wilson for a shot but it was rather casual and the keeper stopped it easily. Zaha later fired in a powerful shot that was deflected just wide before Wilson and Janko also had missed efforts.
Sam Johnstone wasn’t called into action much in the United goal but did well when needed. He produced good saves to deny Jordan Slew and Raheem Hanley.
In the second half, Zaha stepped it up a gear and terrorised the defence and goalkeeper with shot after shot. It was a case of when rather than if he’d get on the score sheet. He was unlucky to be denied by the woodwork after a mesmerising dribble through the box but Zaha finally beat Urwin not long after. He showed good skill to control a Reece James pass, played a one-two with Fabio who had switched to left back and then buried the ball past the keeper on the near post.
United’s second goal came from a set piece. Zaha was crudely brought down on the edge of the box and James Wilson continued his excellent scoring form to blast the left footed free kick under the wall and into the bottom of the net. It was a deserved goal for the 18-year-old who had done well in the lone striker role in his first start with the Under-21s. That was his 13th goal in 14 games in all competitions this season.
United were unfortunate not to add to the scoreline particularly when they were denied by a double save from Urwin who stopped efforts from Rothwell and substitute Andreas Pereira not long before the final whistle.
The game saw many positives including fine performances from the younger lads Wilson, Rothwell and Janko as well as another 90 minutes for Fletcher on his return from injury. Fabio and Zaha, who are currently out of favour, gave really good accounts of themselves with performances that gave signs of what they’d be able to bring to the first team.
Manchester United: Johnstone, Varela, Thorpe, Ekangamene, James, Janko (Pearson 69′), Rothwell, Darren Fletcher, Fabio, Zaha, Wilson (A. Pereira 79′)
Unused substitutes: Gollini, Love, Barmby, Rudge.