Manchester United are safely through in the FA Youth Cup after a 2-0 victory in the third round at nearby Salford City.
Goals from Daniel Gore, in the first half, and Charlie McNeill, after the break, were sufficient to see United book a place in the fourth round but it was never an easy task against a hard-working and resilient Salford bunch of youngsters.
Competing in our first-ever FA Youth Cup tie at Moor Lane, United’s youngsters could barely be closer to one of the club’s spiritual homes, The Cliff on Lower Broughton Road can be no more than half-a-mile distant as a Piccadilly pigeon flies.
It is now 10 years since United last appeared in the FA Youth Cup final, so Neil Ryan and his exciting group of players were well and truly focused on launching a successful campaign in a competition that has always held a special place in Manchester United hearts and minds.
Salford, wearing red shirts, white shorts and socks, kicked off on what was a strangely mild evening at the Peninsula Stadium, which was once the home ground of Manchester RUFC.
U18s break through at SalfordVideo
In the opening few minutes there was nothing to choose between the two teams as Salford made it clear that they were well prepared to match their illustrious visitors in most facets of the game.
Noam Emeran was the first to make an attempt on the Salford goal but his well-struck low shot fizzed past keeper Hayden Evans’ left-hand post. Openings were gradually becoming more frequent with McNeill and Charlie Savage both close to easing United in front, while the home side fired over through skipper Ben Rydel.
Increasingly, it looked like half-time would be reached with the teams all square but, in the 36th minute, United made the breakthrough after a fine move. Full-back Iestyn Hughes provided the assist with a pinpoint cross from the right wing and the ball found Gore perfectly, who completed the job with a firm header past Evans.
The Ammies went close to levelling just moments before referee Mark Reeves sounded the half-time whistle when Anton Smith’s in-swinging corner struck the woodwork before bouncing away to safety.
The second period began in much the same way as we had witnessed at the start of the evening, with Salford working hard to prevent United from getting into our stride.
This was definitely proving to be a sterner test than the Under-21s faced when beating Salford’s first-team 6-0 in the EFL Trophy on the same ground earlier in the season.
United needed some breathing space and Savage’s move into midfield helped provide it, with Marc Jurado taking the Wales youth international’s place at left-back. Savage fed Alejandro Garnacho, who served a splendid through ball into McNeill’s path. Our leading Under-18s scorer shrugged off the attentions of a defender before hitting home in style from a remarkably tight angle to register an excellent strike.
Noam Emeran seemed unfortunate to get a yellow card for simulation rather than a penalty, while Garnacho and McNeill fired off target as Neil Ryan’s side finished strongly to end up confident victors and set up a home clash with Liverpool or Sutton United in round four.
McNeill magic in the FA Youth CupVideo
United: Vitek; Hughes, Fernandez, Hardley, Savage; Svidersky (c) (Mainoo 85), Hansen; Garnacho, Gore (Jurado 64), Emeran (Mather 93); McNeill.
Subs not used: Mee, Murray, Hoogewerf.
Scorers: Gore 36, McNeill 68.