Young Reds Display Real Spirit
íby'Unbelievable. It was not the best football in terms of passing and movement but we showed grit, determination and spirit that great Man United teams always have. It gives you great belief: no matter what the situation is, you are never out. That is Manchester United, this never-say-die attitude is always there.'
These were the words of Paul McGuinness (I quote him by memory as I forgot to record his words but believe me that he had said something like this) after United U18s thrilling victory over Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup.
Well, I was impressed by not just the spirit but the performance too. Of course, McGuinness knows much better than me what his lads are capable of so I agree they were not great today. Especially not in the first 60 minutes.
To be fair, Arsenal looked like a team that would make the most of its advantage from the first leg: they were well on top in the first half, creating chances and unlucky not to be ahead at the whistle. United's task were not made any easier by an injury to the impressive Ben Amos but substitute Ron Zieler went on to have a really good game between the sticks.
He could not prevent Kieran Gibbs to give the Gunners the lead as sloppy defending and good build-up play left Gibbs with an easy tap-in. Arsenal were two up and seemed to be in total control so United had to dig deep - and they did that, in spectacular fashion.
Antonio Bryan's introduction injected more skill and creativity into a side seeming to run out of ideas and United began to dominate. We got some help from Lee Butcher: the Arsenal keeper beat a free-kick just in front of an advancing Fagan who smashed the ball home from 1 yard out.
United finally seized the game by the scruff of its neck and began to dominate but as the minutes and chances came and went it was seemingly Arsenal's night. They failed to inform Antonio Bryan, though: he sidefooted a measured pass into the far corner from 14 yards out, in Michael Carrick-style (you remember his goal against Blackburn, don't you?) in the 93th minute... well, proud traditions have to be maintained.
Arsenal players looked like survivors staggering away from a plane crash and United dominated the opening stages of extra-time, looking in better shap, they were faster on the ball and more accurate with their passing.
But as it happens all too often, these things counted for nothing as a moment of inspiration saw Arsenal retake the lead by the excellent Murphy. It might have been too great psychological task to overturn another deficit but such things were not on the minds of McGuinness' lads. They hit back in stunning fashion.
First, a long ball by Cathcart was flicked on by Parisio who inadvertently put Hewson clear. The impressive midfielder found Brandy from the byline and United's No. 9 sweeped the ball into the net.
With Arsenal having more foreign players, it was always likely that the British tradition of losing shootouts would strike again so no wonder the Reds looked to win the tie. And they did: Galbraith's cross from the left seemed to head into the hands of Butcher but the goalkeeper was beaten to the ball by 16-year-old Danny Welbeck who, by the way, rose above two Arsenal-defenders to nod United into 4-3 lead on aggregate.
But the exhausting drama was not over. Under the watchful eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson, the young Reds survived two injury scares of Cathcart and Brandy and as the 120th minute arrived, it looked like Arsenal had no chance. But they created one, out of nothing and Murphy was put clear on the right side of the penalty box but his shot evaded the far post with inches...
It was over after the goalkick, and I must say that I witnessed very few so thrilling games even at adult level. Congratulations to the guys who will battle it out for the FA Youth Cup with Liverpool. The first leg will be played at Anfield on April 16, the second leg will be held three days later at Old Trafford.