STOKE CITY’S Under-18s were taught a lesson in the importance of doing better in possession as Manchester United avenged their opening day defeat with a relatively comfortable 1-0 victory at Clayton Wood Training Ground.
Although the scoreline suggests a much closer contest, United monopolised possession and perhaps should have had more to show for their efforts than the free-kick which was fired home by Andreas Pereira five minutes after the break.
Credit must be given to City’s goalkeeper Dale Eve and his back four, however, as they remained resilient and organised under immense pressure from a confident and fast-flowing United.
This rearranged fixture brought the two sides together only a few weeks after they had contested the season’s curtain-raiser – a game that Stoke triumphed in by winning 2-1.
The Potters had some players from that game missing for this clash, with Kris Scott and Curtis Strong both away on international duty and Peter Makrillos still recovering from injury.
It showed as United set the early pace and went close to taking the lead after eight minutes – firstly James Weir slid in Pereira who had his shot turned over impressively by Eve, and then from the resulting corner Sam Byrne somehow forged enough space for a shot that cannoned back off the post.
City settled into the match, and after Jake Cook had cleared the bar with an audacious effort from outside the box, Derice Richards spurned a decent chance when he mistimed his header from Joel Taylor’s cross.
The visitors began to peg the home side back as the half wore on, and had a goal disallowed on the half hour when Byrne pounced on an Eve parry but was flagged offside.
United’s number nine then played in James Wilson on 35 minutes, who was denied by City’s ‘keeper after his shot ricocheted off the Bermudan’s foot.
Stoke could have taken the lead before half-time when Cook chased a long pass and nipped in front of United’s defender, but Pierluigi Gollini was on hand to block his effort.
The visitors got their reward for their dominance in possession on 50 minutes – Stoke carelessly gave a free-kick away on the corner of the penalty area, and Pereira’s right-footed in-swinger evaded everyone and found the back of the net.
They were well on top in the period after the goal, and even central defender Liam Grimshaw showed his attacking flair by driving across the pitch before receiving a return pass that he volleyed at a comfortable height for Eve.
Stoke were struggling to put anything together in the attacking third with the quality of their opponents’ ball retention, although James Alabi had a penalty shout waved away when he fell in the area on 71 minutes.
They were putting themselves in trouble up the other end by conceding free-kicks in dangerous positions, and Wilson forced a fine stop from Eve when he curled a left-footed effort round the wall.
The Potters looked a little brighter when Nathan Ricketts-Hopkinson, a youngster formerly at United’s rivals City, was introduced, although their best effort came from Kieran Monlouis whose 30-yard drive stung the hands of Gollini.
United were playing keep-ball up until the end, though, and coach John Perkins praised their high quality in his assessments after the final whistle.
“We were up against one of the best youth teams in the country,” he admitted.
“We have to do better on the ball, but we worked very hard off it – they only scored one goal in 90 minutes with a host of international players in their team.
“I was satisfied defensively but we certainly have to do a lot better when we regain possession, especially in the final third.”
Stoke City: Eve; Westley, Coulson, O’Reilly, Taylor; Alabi (Ricketts-Hopkinson 75), Cook, Monlouis, Lecygne, Nardiello; Richards. Subs not used: Gledhill, Sanders, Hulme, Pilkington.
Manchester United: Gollini; Evans, McNair, Grimshaw, Rowley; Rothwell, Weir, Pearson, Wilson; Pereira; Byrne (Rudge 85). Subs not used: O’Hara, Gorre, Wilkinson, Harrop.