Let us be honest, tonight really was a non-event. The Imps needed a win to top the group in a tournament which isn’t seeded.
All that was really at stake was £10,000, the possibility of a home te and potential injuries. Topping the group gives you a home te, unless you draw an Under 21 side, then the opposition will be at home. One wonders, what if two Under 21 teams draw each other?
Anyway, with Zack Elbouzedi, Brennan Johnson, and Anthony Scully on international duty, plus Lewis Montsma, Joe Walsh, Callum Morton and Jamie Soule all injured, the key was just to get through the game unscathed. In one bit of good news for the Imps, Liam Bridcutt returned for his first match back after a short spell out.
As for Manchester City Under 21s, their squad numbers went up to 96, which reflects youth hoarding if ever there was one. They started brightly too, looking to play a strong, possession-based game. On the other hand, the Imps struggled to settle in the early exchanges, with the best chances falling to Man City through mistakes at the back. An early slip by Ethan Ross almost led to a goal for Felix Nmecha, but his effort was wayward. Not long afterwards, Sean Roughan’s errant pass led to a break for the boys in blue, with Remy Howarth came back to help resolve.
City’s first chance of the half also came courtesy of Remy Howarth’s work. He broke down the left, checked back and found Max Melbourne, whose cross was good for Tom Hopper, who headed meekly into the keeper’s arms.
Keyendrah Simmonds had a shot well saved by Ross, who looked to grow in confidence after the early slip, before the first real blow of the game for City. Howarth chased a ball into the channel, pulling up clutching his hamstring. That was the end of his evening, replaced by McGrandles.
The change forced City into a major reshuffle, Robbie Gotts heading to right-back, Harry Anderson going wide right, Theo Archibald wide left and McGrandles dropping into the midfield. It didn’t majorly change the complexion of the game though; the Under 21 side still dominated possession even if they didn’t create clear-cut chances.
The first half was punctuated by a ‘busy’ referee, Carl Boyeson, who didn’t get any big calls wrong, but was very precise over where throw-ins should go from, as well as perhaps handing a harsh yellow out to Liam Bridcutt early doors.
Tom Hopper was almost in for City’s opener midway through the half, Melbourne and Archibald combined for the latter to put a telling ball into the danger area, but the defender just got a toe in as Hopper looked likely to meet the cross. From the resulting corner, Robbie Gotts almost made a real name for himself with an inswinger that was punched away as it looked to be heading straight in.
As the half wore on, it was Man City’s U21 side that looked more likely to take the lead. Jaden Braaf showed unbelievable pace to get between Melbourne and Roughan, firing a shot at goal which got blocked. The loose rebound dropped to Nmecha, who always seemed to be in good positions, but he fired over.
Their next chance came from Oscar Bobb, he turned Robbie Gotts inside out and laid a lovely ball into the path of Simmons who fired over. It seemed the visitors were getting the upper hand, but there was still time for one last Imps chance.
Tom Hopper hunted a long ball on the left, which keeper Slicker came out for. He tried to dummy Hopper and win a goal kick, but instead saw the striker come away with the ball with him stranded. Hopper took his time to place the ball into the path of Edun, who was disposed at the last second with an open goal gaping. It was an excellent piece of defensive work from Man City’s number 81.