U23s Ease To United Win

Thibaud Verlinden

STOKE CITY UNDER-23s secured a comfortable 3-1 win over Manchester United on their return to Premier League 2 action at Harrison Park on Monday evening, writes Conor Shaw.

First half goals from wingers Tre Pemberton and Thibaud Verlinden put the Potters in control of the contest, before the Red Devils pulled one back with 10 minutes to go.

However, the Potters made sure there was to be no nervous ending by going down the other end and responding almost immediately thanks to Josh Tymon’s superbly taken free-kick.

The victory means that Kevin Russell’s side close the gap on the play-off positions to seven points, with a game in hand on Midlands rivals Aston Villa who lie in fifth place.

Fresh from their impressive victory over Charlton Athletic last week, the Potters went into the game looking to carry their PL Cup form into the league campaign – and only made one change from their victory seven days ago, with Tre Pemberton replacing Ollie Shenton.

United meanwhile headed into the encounter searching for their first league victory in their last three attempts and sat in sixth place in the Division Two standings.

Neither side managed to stamp their authority on the match on a chilly evening in the Staffordshire Moorlands, but the visitors looked the most likely to forge an early opportunity. Aiden Barlow made a darting run along the left channel and took a superb first touch, before he tested Daniel Gyollai with a low driven strike which the Hungarian collected.

City looked full of energy in their search for the opener and were nearly rewarded for their efforts moments later. Verlinden curled in a pin point cross directly from a corner and found Collins lurking in the area. The Irish youth international rose the highest in the box and nodded his effort marginally wide of the mark.

An error in the United defence on the half hour mark almost proved costly for Ricky Sbragia’s side and Verlinden nearly put keeper Matej Kovar to the sword. The Belgian winger applied the pressure on Kovar, which forced the United man to spill the ball into his path. From a tight angle and with an open goal to aim for, Verlinden guided his strike just over the bar.

Pemberton exploited United’s defensive frailties and fired the Potters into the lead. A lofted ball from Tymon found the City man through the middle of the park, and after a quick turn beyond Lee O’Connor, the former Blackburn Rovers tricky winger slotted the ball beyond a despairing Kovar between the sticks for United.

City began to look in cruise control, and soon doubled their advantage heading into the interval. Daniel Jarvis raced along the right flank and didn’t even need to glance up to find Verlinden in the penalty area. Unmarked and unchallenged, the Potters man confidently fired the ball into the back of the net.

The Potters seemed to fly out of the blocks in the second half and looked well on course to adding a third. Pemberton skipped into the penalty area and tripped under a challenge, but referee Joe Hull waved away the protests.

With ten minutes left on the clock, United pulled a goal back through substitute D’Mani Mellor. Completely avoiding the offside trap, the striker nipped in behind Collins to fire into the roof of the net beyond Gyollai.

Under some pressure, City wrapped up the win in sensational style. Tymon shaped up to send in a cross from his 30-yard free kick, but the left-back caught Kovar off his line – and curled his strike into the top corner.

Stoke City: Gyollai, Wara, Collins, Forrester, Tymon, Sorensen, Dunwoody (Balde 74), Jarvis, Pemberton, Verlinden, Kyeremateng (Varian 80). Unused: Kanuric, Niakate, Twyford.