Manchopper in….Salford (AJ Bell Stadium)

Result: Manchester Utd u21 2-2 Fulham u21 (Barclays under-21 Premier League)

Venue: AJ Bell Stadium (Monday 28th October 2013, 7pm)

Att: Around 600 estimate?

On Monday night, I made the late decision to make my first trip to the local, yet strangely difficult to get to, Salford City Stadium. The newly built stadium, now known as AJ Bell Stadium under a sponsorship deal, is of course home to both codes of rugby, it’s intended hosts, the newly re-named Rugby League side Salford Red Devils and their Union tenants Sale Sharks. However, these have latterly been joined by the United youngsters, who have made the switch (for most games) from Altrincham’s Moss Lane (J Davidson Stadium).

So, after once again being kindly offered a lift by my Dad, who I’m sure must be wondering when he took a job as a cabby, I arrived at the ground just across the road from City Airport Manchester (Barton Aerodrome). Incidentally, there is a lot of name changes going on isn’t there?! We pulled up at the car park where two stewards greeted us. One asked what stand we were looking for, which later proved a confusing question as I discovered there was only one in use.

I arrived 20 minutes late, as I had seen info that the game was an 8pm start rather than a 7pm start, and paid my £3 to the gateman in his booth, before making my way past the ‘supporters bar’, which tonight was populated only by G4S security guards, towards the turnstile. Making my way through, I eventually greeted none other than Lost Boyos’ Matt Harrison. Again. And no, I’m not stalking him, so you can leave that suggestion right there!!

History Lesson:

Manchester Utd have run their reserve side since 1999, the introduction of the reserve league. They won it 5 times, in ’02,’05,’06,’10,’12.  From the next season, 12-13, the u-21 rules were introduced, with the club winning this in its inaugural year. They’ve played at Altrincham’s Moss Lane, Northwich Victoria’s former home, Victoria Stadium and Ewen Fields, home of Hyde, before moving to their current home in Barton-upon-Irwell. The stadium itself holds 12,000 with its record being 9,783 in a rugby union game between Sale Sharks and London Wasps. In the future, the ground could be extended to hold 20,000 spectators. The main stand, the only one in use today, holds 4,500.

Matt informed me that we were in the presence of stardom tonight, as none other than David Beckham was joining us in attendance, albeit way above the rest of us in his nice plush box! It turned out United assistant Phil Neville was also in attendance. And they were greeted by the welcome sight of former team-mate Darren Fletcher making a return to the hallowed turf, after a long layoff with his chronic bowel problem. I’m sure everyone in attendance was happy to see him making further steps in his bid to resurrect his career.

However, it was the Thames-siders who made the brighter start, with Moussa Dembele (no, not that one) leading the line along with the wonderfully named Muamer Tankovic. Both went close early on, as United were slow to get going, and it was no surprise when Dembele struck the opener, past the despairing Sam Johnstone, from close range.

HT was called, and most of the windswept crowd made their way into the bowels of the stadium for hot refreshment. Matt went for a hot chocolate and a Steak and Pepper pie, whereas I opted for just the liquid option. I have it on good authority that the pies are very good, despite them being pre-packaged, as is the chocolate. It stays very hot, as I found out to my, and my mouth’s cost!

The second half began much as the first, with the Londoners on the front foot, and it didn’t take them long to double their advantage, when the aforementioned Tankovic poked home from close range following a Sean Kavanagh corner, with Lasse Vigen Christensen claiming the assist. By this time, Matt had gained a small infatuation for Ronny Minkwitz, Fulham’s 19-year-old German playmaker, who is an ex-VFB Stuttgart player. According to his profile, he is a tempo-raising, wonder goal scoring midfielder, who is one to watch. Remember the name then!

Anyway, with the game seemingly in the bag, and United looking beat, it would only take luck for them to get back into it. And when Larnell Cole struck the bar, it seemed theirs was out. But a couple of minutes later, Will Keane was sent clear, and despite Fulham’s custodian Jesse Joronen making a tremendous save to keep him out, the rebound struck the helpless Stephen Arthurworrey and crossed the line. Game on it seemed!!

And game on it most certainly was, as Tom Lawrence somehow fired wide, Minkwitz stung the hands of Johnstone at the other end, before with five minutes to play, centre-back Michael Keane, who’d been pushed forwards, had the ball fall to his feet, and after taking a moment, struck a cracking, unstoppable drive which flew into the top corner with Joronen clutching at thin air.

So, a point a piece it was, with Fulham possibly feeling a little hard done by after being the better of the two sides for 70 minutes, but it’s 90 for a reason, and United’s under-21’s showed that famous Fergie hallmark of never giving in. A lift back capped the night nicely, as did the McFlurry picked up on the way back! A quick note on Darren Fletcher, who looked a class above the rest of the side, always picking a pass and finding space easily. Quality.

My MUFC U-21 M.o.M- Darren Fletcher

My Fulham U-21 M.o.M- Moussa Dembele

RATINGS:

Game: 7- A good game, technically sound, with 4 goals too

Ground: 9- Really nice, tidy ground, not too big either

Fans: 6- People were leaving before the end. In a u-21 game!! Why?

Programme: N/A- Non-existent

Food: 9- Top notch drinks, pies were good too according to Matt

Value For Money: 10- £3 for the second tier Utd side!

Referee: 9- Faultless, but can never give a man in black 10 can you?!

TEAMS:

Man Utd u-21: 1.Sam Johnstone, 2.Guillermo Varela, 3.Tyler Blackett, 4.Tom Thorpe, 5.Michael Keane(c),(1), 6.Charni Ekangamene, 7.Larnell Cole, 8.Darren Fletcher, 9.Will Keane, 10.Reece James, 11.Tom Lawrence SUBS: 12.Saidy Janko(p), 13.Joel Pereira(GK), 14.Joe Rothwell(p),  15.Ben Pearson, 16.Jack Barmby. M:Warren Joyce

Fulham u-21: 1.Jesse Joronen, 2.Josh Passley, 3.Sean Kavanagh, 4.Ronny Minkwitz, 5.Stephen Arthurworrey(o.g.), 6. Jonathan Buatu Mananga, 7.Buomesca Tue Na Bangna, 8.Lasse Vigen Christensen, 9.Moussa Dembele(1), 10.Muamer Tankovic(1), 11.Tom Richards SUBS: 12.Ange Freddy Plumain(p), 13.Brennan (triallist) 14.Lyle Della Verde 15.Dino Islamovic 16.Daniel O’Reilly

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