Result: Manchester United u21 1-0 Reading u21 (Barclays u21 Premier League)
Venue: Leigh Sports Village Stadium (Monday 15th February 2016, 7pm)
A Monday night game is something of a rarity for myself these days and especially so for these pages. But the final game of the season for the Manchester United u21’s at Leigh was too good on opportunity to turn down and, as such, during the late afternoon I headed off towards the town near Wigan and its impressive multi-purpose stadium.
Getting the bus via the Trafford Centre, I arrived into Leigh at around 5.30pm and with two hours until kick-off, set about heading to one of the pubs adjoining the town’s bus station. With the choice being between the Spinning Jenny, with a couple having a barney outside it, or the George and Dragon, with no couple having a barney outside it, I headed for the quieter option. To the G&D it was!
Upon entering the pub, I ordered a bottle of Sol for £2.40. It was at the point when I was informed of the price that I thought I’d misheard! £2.40 is pretty cheap considering the usual price I find it sold at. Good start! After wasting away an uneventful half-hour while listening to the jovial “Mull of Kintyre” being pumped out of the speakers, it was back outside and heading over toward the Sports Village. But firstly came The Centurion a pub I’d spotted on a prior visit to watch the United u18’s back in December. The pub, decked out in Leigh Centurions gear is one you can imagine is rocking on an egg-shaped match day. Tonight, less so.
Still, the Centurion had a few punters inside and was being kept alive by a group of especially loud people at the bar. Not that this was a bad thing, otherwise it would have been pretty boring. Anyway, to the bar it was and a pint of Coors was purchased for the princely sum of £2. How cheap is this place? With beers cheap and free entry to the game on its way, this really was a bargain basement evening.
Soon enough it was time to move on and to undertake the ten minute walk to the LSV. After turning right at the church, its straight down the road and the lights meet you as does New Madeley Park, the home of the Leigh Harriers athletic team, which also doubles as the ground of Manchester League side Leigh Athletic. Anyway, before entering the ground itself, it was on for the final stop-off: the Whistling Wren. The Whistling Wren is in the Marston’s group of pubs and the prices were much more normal for the Desperados here. But no worry as it was better than being freezing in the stands for a half-hour.
The Leigh Sports Village Stadium itself is one of the better of the “new build” stadia. It’s three all seater stands are all rather similar, with the “Main Stand” housing the hospitality boxes, café and other official offices. Opposite is the stand I was in, which houses the media balcony and is otherwise a twin of the Main Stand, bar the boxes. Behind the far end goal is a further seating stand, with the near end featuring a full covered terrace. Sadly, both of these were out of use today.
With ten minutes to the start of the contest, I made my way over to the stand nearest the way back out again and headed through the turnstile unopposed, which is always a strange experience. Into the concourse, there was only one place next to visit and with that out of the way it was up and into the stand. Upon making my way up to the rear of the “media stand” as I will term it, I spotted with an eagle-eye a man carrying a box down the front of the stand and into the concourse. I assumed these to be teamsheets and with programmes not issued, these then become much more attractive. Indeed as I headed back under the stand, the unidentified man dropped his box off on the corner of the refreshment bar and I was soon in ownership of my very own piece of glossy A4 paper.
With that excitement out of the way, it was back to the rear of the stand for the game. The two sides, United and Reading, had made their way out as had the ref, Darren Strain, who I remembered from my days watching the Evo-Stik as a one club man. Strain clearly still enjoys his sunbeds!! With jest done, he really had a great game and I didn’t notice any real dissent towards any decisions, which is always good to see and a sure sign of a ref doing a good job and two sides showing the respect the way they should.
With niceties out of the way, it’s onto the game. The first half…well, wasn’t great. At all. Martin Keown, in the stands watching son Niall play at centre half for the Royals, would have been impressed with the visitors defence. Never did they really look threatened at the back, with James Weir being wasteful and ex-Salford City man Sadiq El-Fitouri looking un-threatening especially.
Matty Willock came closest for United, the impressive central midfielder seeing his shot beaten away, but it was Reading who should have lead at the break. A loose pass saw Reading break but striker Rowan Liburd, the highest scorer in the u21 league, struck the foot of the post when one-on-one with Joel Pereira. With Brian McDermott in attendance, this could have been a great moment for Liburd to find the net.
The half ended with Joe Riley firing wastefully over from the edge of the area, but the half thankfully came to a close and it was time for a hot-dog, which was ok and did the warming-up/filling-up job fairly well, but by now it was time to look forward to the end of play and to escape the cold. To add to the worries was the smoke-like substance surrounding one of the floodlights on top of the opposite “Main Stand”, though no-one seemed to care so it mustn’t have been smoke at all. Phew.
The second half was soon underway, with two centre mid’s taking the majority of the play. United’s Willock had an acrobatic effort well saved by the Reading GK Stuart Moore and the Royals’ answer to David Luiz, skipper Aaron Kuhl spread the play for his side on a number of occasions with well judged passes. Both look decent players as does Joe Riley the United left-back, who I’m now convinced has a third lung as he bombed up and down the flank all game. Indeed, he was instrumental in the goal.
Just before the hour mark and with the Reds now in total control of the game, Riley was fed down the left and his ball in was met by Weir whose shot hit the post only to rebound into the net off the unfortunate Sean Long. 1-0, own goal.
Reading looked much less of a force during the second period, offering little to threaten Joel Pereira, who looks like he’s getting better and better in between the sticks and indeed he successfully snuffed out any threat the Royals posed as they pushed onwards as United dropped back in the last 15. As it was, United held on to secure the three points to remain top of the league going into the “Mini-Derby” on Saturday afternoon against City, but Reading would have felt hard done by to have not claimed something from the game after their first half display.
So, with the temperature dropping by the minute, it was swiftly back into the town centre and to the Leigh Arms opposite the bus station, with banners exclaiming “99p drinks!” Sadly, these weren’t to be found at this moment in time, though I was quite happy to pay another £2.30 for a pint of Tuborg to wile away the next 50 minutes waiting for the next carriage out. This was made all the better when a pub-wide rendition of Queen’s hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ broke out.
After a less impressive, broken bit of Bon Jovi it was off over the road to catch my solo transport back. To cover myself, I made sure to get off on the dual carriageway leading into the shopping centre and in doing so witnessed a group of youths miss one bus and set off to walk back to the Traff. Only then did the other guy waiting ask if I was waiting for the 22 service. I answered to the affirmative for him to respond “It’ll be fun to watch them run back, just watch”! Indeed, no longer than 30 seconds had passed from the end of this statement than the group came charging back round the corner in a scene like the Pamplona bull-run, if you can substitute a bus for a bull in your minds.
So brought an end to a Monday evening in Leigh. I have to say that it’s a shame that the town doesn’t have a pyramid level footballing side at the moment, but I hope this can be rectified at some point in the future. But, rugby is king and I fear the town doesn’t miss the “beautiful game” as much as others would. But, with Leigh Athletic still hanging on in there, who knows what could happen…
Game: 5- Not the greatest, but at least there was a goal to be seen.
Ground: 7- An impressive new-build. Good facilities and well placed.
Food: 6- Not bad, better in length than in taste. Ah, come on…
Programme: N/A- Teamsheet only.
Fans: 6- Not really sure I can do a rating on this, so I’ll stick it slightly over average.
Value For Money: 8- Cheap beers, free match, decent ground and cheap(ish) travel. Shame it was cold!