Same old, same old: Imps 0-1 Manchester United Under 21s

The Imps all-but slipped out of the EFL Trophy last night, but I wouldn’t call it limp, nor a particularly bad evening for the side. 

No defeat is positive, that’s not up for debate and a run of nine defeats in 11 won’t have supporters filled with confidence going into a tough-looking October, but those who did brave the chill last night were rewarded by a really good attacking display from the Imps. Dare I say, but with the odd tweak, last night’s game would have been dead and buried by the time the United youth took the lead.

Michael Appleton made eight changes to the side that lost at Blackpool, with few surprises in the starting line up. Jake Hesketh was one I always felt would be included in the first team picture so him appearing last night was a prelude to that. Aaron Lewis and Max Melbourne took up their expected positions too, with Ellis also coming in as expected.

A couple of what I term ‘senior’ players were also involved; Toff seems to play every game no matter what and Harry Anderson got a run out on the right. I do wonder if that is suggesting he might be rested for Sunderland and either Payne or Hesketh will come into the starting XI. Jorge Grant might even get a run out and anyone who thinks he’s not interested since Danny left will have been pleasantly surprised last night.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

As for Man Utd (and I will call them that if only to save me typing out ‘Under 21s’ after every mention. Sorry Marcus), they named 11 young players few outside of Manchester will know about. I got the inside track from Andy Mitten of United We Stand and FourFourTwo magazine; he came along and sat next to me in the press box. He singled out James Garner, Tahitha Chong and Dylan Levitt as the three with a big future. I’d add Matej Kovar to that after his heroics between the sticks.

He also told me how he’d been at the Arsenal game Monday, us Tuesday, Barcelona tonight and finally Alkamaar on Thursday. I told him after watching the Imps my calendar was filled with writing at home and getting the dog groomed. I had Alan Johnson sat the other side of me, a lifelong Imp who covers the Echo when their regular guy is away. I’ve got loads of time for Al and it was a really good night for me in terms of company, which made up for the fact my hands were freezing by the final whistle.

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Dare I say, City started superbly. One huge gripe in recent weeks has been the tendency to let in early goals, but that just didn’t seem likely last night. I’ll write the words ‘down the left’ a lot in this article, but down the left we looked excellent. Grant and Toffolo combine just as well as Bruno and Toff did last year; the common denominator is the former Norwich trainee. I liked Toff last season, he’s always been an all-action player and a threat going forward, but he’s just kicked on this time out. We need him tied to a new contract as soon as possible because he’s rapidly becoming our star man.

Jake Hesketh looked really lively too and within minutes of kick off the Imps should have been ahead. The debutant fed in Jorge Grant who went one on one with Kovar, but couldn’t get it past the United keeper. By the 14th minute Hesketh had hit the bar, Grant had another chance saved and both Bolger and John Akinde were inches away from connecting with crosses.

Something felt as though it had clicked, even with this being a much-changed squad. Jake Hesketh certainly impressed pushing up on John Akinde and he looked capable of creating and scoring. I thought everything we did down the left worked, their right back had a bit of a mare to be honest; but then they had an average age of 17 across the back and in that respect fought well. Still, as the clock turned to 20 minutes I felt one goal would bring three or four.

One goal came, but not for us. Man Utd’s first foray into our area resulted in a goal; a good one too. Chong and Garner it was who made it and Grant Smith was left stranded. Aaron Lewis has got a lot of praise for his performance and rightly so, but Chong’s run came down our defensive right.

The goal knocked us a bit and I felt we went off during the next fifteen minutes or so. There were a few niggly fouls and perhaps the Imps’ heads dropped a little bit. Michael O’Connor did impress me though, he was tenacious in the tackle and looked keen to impress his value on Michael Appleton. He’s missed out in recent weeks which is a shame; he was arguably one of our key players during the early season run of form.

Courtesy Graham Burrell

Grant Smith was called into action twice, he saved from Devine before forcing Ramazani out wide after a slip by Max Melbourne. Again, I’ve seen some criticism of our defensive pairing but I didn’t feel either played badly; Cian was a surprising captain for me with O’Connor in the side, but he did a good job. Max, a left back by trade, certainly had a decent night if not a brilliant one. He won’t be starting at the weekend but he showed he’s capable of covering in the event of injuries.

After weathering the rough patch we were back on top going into the break. Grant and Toffolo linked up a couple of times to create half-chances, with Harry Anderson coming into the game. One moment from Harry looked to be going nowhere, a surging run into the box resulted in a loose ball bouncing away from the winger, but it fell straight to Grant who scooped the ball wide.

It was Harry again not long after, he hit the post with a header after, you guessed it, more great work down the left. As the half-time whistle went I felt it wouldn’t be long before the Imps had the ball in the net. I wasn’t wrong.


  1. Good analysis, Gary.

    That WAS a good night for the IMPS, PLUS IT WAS THE MOST ENTERTAINING GAME I HAVE SEEN at SB for a while.

    Good to see so may promising performances from non established first team players – especially Hesketh, but Chapman, Smith, Melbourne, Grant, also. The result is unimportant in the context of the season and clearly, the Premier U21 sides are taking the tournament seriously and we could end up with 2 off them competing at Wembley – wouldn’t that make the whole thing pointless!

    Confidence is building. We need a win now for the fans – wouldn’t it be great if we could get that on Saturday in front of a full-house against Sunderland – UPTI

  2. Yes good nights football and I picked out Lewis who is really going to push Eardley for his place.If Walker had been in the central postion I think we would have won, so in the window send Mr Akinde out on loan and bring in a new understudy to Kyle Walker.

  3. Better than I expected. More enthusiasm and drive BUT when are we going to see some incisive FORWARD movment from defence -rather than passing to and fro along the back three – with some accurate piecing forwards balls? (Am I expecting too much?) We passed up several good goal opportunities.Is anyone able to take a punt at goal from outside the box (as Man U did and Oxford Utd too frequently did and to great effect with the 6-0 slamming. Not every punt at goal will end up in the carpark! One’s got to go in sometime.) The comment round me was that we were “trying to walk the ball into the net”.Furthermore. Current play is exasperating to watch.)

  4. Very entertaining match, you could already see the Appleton influence. We shouldn’t take last nights match out of context, it was a good performance just without the main ingredient – goals.
    Lots of food for thought for the manager.

    Just a final point really what was their goal celebration all about in front of an empty Stacey West – still I suppose Man U at any level don’t score many goals so they have to truly celebrate them whenever they come along. It did have an air of arrogance about it.

  5. Agree about Akinde, he was bang average (at best) and essentially marked out of the game by 2 young lads. Based on this and Appleton’s decision to not even send him on on Friday night at Blackpool, even though we were a goal down, I think John’s chances of much football are minimal and I could even see him being sold in January should we be able to source a suitable back up to Tyler Walker.

    • Marked by two? Left plenty of space for the others? I too hope Akinde loses, only person who gets moaned about in a loss. He deserves better

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