This was about as comprehensive as 2-0 victories get. The only disappointment for Jason Wilcox and his u18s was that City’s forwards couldn’t add a considerably more pleasing gloss to the final scoreline. In truth the game was settled early on. The red card, correctly awarded for what its worth, left City in complete control and killed the game as a contest. Those looking for a narrative, and there was national media in attendance, were probably left disappointed that greater damage wasn’t inflicted on the ten men of United. Credit where its due, the United defence made it difficult for City but the scoreline should have been considerably more comfortable than it ended up. As it often is, it was left to Nmecha to break the deadlock. After a relatively cagey opening twenty minutes the game suddenly burst into life; Nmecha capitalised on some sloppy United play and burst into the area. He was hacked down, the ref pointed to the spot and duly dished out a red card to the culprit. Nmecha himself did the rest from the spot, slotting into the bottom right hand corner with the keeper going the other way.
After that, it was all City. Buckley missed a sitter, somehow firing over from six yards after great work down the right from Duhaney, and Erik Sarmiento exchanged a beautiful one-two with Nmecha before being caught just as he was about to pull the trigger. Nmecha should have had another penalty too, dragged back as he burst into the area. You suspect it would’ve been given if there hadn’t already been one awarded, but it was nervously ignored. The second half didn’t see any notable change in proceedings. City passed it around, United remained resolute and the game went through extended periods of attack versus defence. City’s numerical superiority told and United barely crossed into City’s half. Before the second there was a great chance for Ash Kigbu, heading a Brahim corner just wide, and Lukas Nmecha almost scored a screamer. He delightfully span one, bulldozed past another, and drove into the area before uncharacteristically losing his composure when it most mattered. He fired wildly over from about 14 yards, disappointingly. It would’ve been some goal, but it mattered not in the end as any lingering doubts were quickly vanquished after Brahim grabbed the second. Sarmiento made it, harrying exceptionally on the left to win the ball high up the pitch. He laid it back to Brahim who coolly feinted past one before lifting into the roof of the net with around twenty minutes left to play.
There were other chances, Fernandes notably drilling wide after an opportunity of his own making, but it remained two nil. It was a deserved victory, if perhaps a little underwhelming. Wilcox talked after the game about his dissatisfaction that City didn’t do more, and he was right. A City team at their best would’ve moved the ball quicker, would have been vastly more clinical, and in general put a vulnerable and rudderless United team to the sword. There was a clear gulf between the two, but it wasn’t hammered home. In a weird way, and as it often happens when a team goes up against just ten men, there might have been more space for City if the numbers on the pitch had remained level. United shut up shop to prevent a landslide, and it worked as it only ended up as a relatively respectable, yet forgettable 2-0 victory. Of course, the job was done, but perhaps not the message City’s u18s would’ve liked to send, especially with Khaldoon sat watching in the stands. Individually, Sarmiento stood out. The young Spanish left-back has made a fine start to life at the CFA, and he impressed once again. He’s clearly exceptional technically, but it was a showing of true determination and grit that left him with the plaudits. There was a real tenacity to his display and it was hugely encouraging to see. Davenport was a fiery, battling presence in the heart of midfield as he always is, and Kongolo, though not quite as explosive going forward as he has been in the last couple of weeks, was an assured, competent partner alongside him.
After a great run of form, Dilrosun didn’t have his most effective outing in a blue shirt. His struggled a little to find space as United sat back, likewise Buckley on the right. Neither were bad, but neither reached their usual high standards. Brahim was quiet in the first half, often crowded out as he started at the peak of the midfield three. He was switched out wide left after Dilrosun was replaced and he found considerably greater joy. He frequently beat the right-back and his goal was lovely. He showed a touch of real class to let the ball run across him to give himself the half of yard he needed, before finishing coolly. Nmecha was good. He’s a real prospect and he’s becoming quite a physical specimen now too. He held the ball up well, intelligently linked play with those around him and he got his usual goal too. He’s a very interesting prospect, a complete striker really. Other than consistency and experience, he has no real weaknesses to his game and he’ll surely feature heavily for the EDS next season. There was little to do defensively, with United only really mustering one half shot from the edge of the area throughout the entire game. Humphreys and Oliver strolled the first half before the former was replaced by Ash Kigbu at the interval. It was good to see the young defender back after a spell out injured, and there was one reminder of his power as he drove powerfully past two United challenges towards goal.
Duhaney at right-back had a solid game, supporting Buckley where he could. He had little space to work with, yet he showcased some superbly intricate footwork, driving into the area past United’s left-back. Fernandes grabbed ten minutes ahead of him on the right as a late sub for Isaac Buckley, and he looked as tricky and as graceful as ever. With his first touch he proceeded to turn his opponent inside out three times, yet he could only drag his shot into the side-netting. Patching had a thirty minute runout too, elegantly keeping things ticking over, though like others he found United’s packed back-line a little hard to breach. Grimshaw was literally a spectator. He had absolutely nothing to do other than keep warm on a surprisingly blustery day. He watched as City kept the ball and the referee blew for full-time. The result confirmed City’s place in top four ahead of the league splits in a few weeks time. It left City a remarkable 33 points ahead of United as they extended their lead at the top of the table. The merging of the top four teams from the southern division with those from this league should be fascinating. Chelsea are incredibly strong and they’ll provide a stern challenge, likewise Fulham and Reading. Long before that though, these two teams meet again in the return game at the Carrington training complex. It’ll be a relatively non-event for both teams, with nothing other than local pride at show, but it’ll be keenly fought. You suspect there will be space for City to counter as the away team, and it’ll be another intriguing contest. There will be a report here at City Watch, as ever, after the game.