Manchester United Under-23s claimed a hard-fought point from a 1-1 draw against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Friday night, thanks to Largie Ramazani’s first goal at this level.
In a proud week for United’s Academy, many of the regular options open to Ricky Sbragia were not considered after their trip to Paris in midweek. Brandon Williams, James Garner, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood will all have benefited hugely from the experience of one of the most memorable nights in the club’s history of knockout football in Europe.
Consequently, the midfield trio was entirely made up of Under-18s – Ethan Galbraith, Dylan Levitt and Aliou Traore – with centre-back Di’Shon Bernard and Ramazani also in the XI.
Sunderland went in at the break a goal to the good thanks to Benjamin Kimpioka, but a spirited second-half display from United led to Ramazani scoring a late goal to claim a share of the spoils.
Wearside on a chilly and damp evening at this time of the year may not be the most appealing of propositions, but the main compensation for United’s young side was to get the opportunity to play at the one of England’s best and most atmospheric of venues.
It’s unbelievable that following two successive relegations, this famous old club find themselves playing third-tier football in these spectacular surroundings even if a promotion bid remains in full swing.
The hosts, coached by one-time United trainee Elliott Dickman, may be languishing at the foot of the table, but in they certainly didn’t look like a basement side during the early moments of this game. No genuine chances were created during the opening exchanges, but the home side were marginally the more threatening.
United took a little time to get into our stride, but eventually started to give the Sunderland defence a few uneasy moments. Ramazani and Nishan Burkart were instrumental in many of United’s best moves and, in the 34th minute, their combined good work almost brought United a goal when Joshua Bohui laid the bal back to the lively Ramazani and his inviting cross was, unfortunately, headed way off target by Burkart.
Just two minutes later, United’s improvement was nipped in the bud when the home side went in front thanks to some neat play and a fine finish from Kimpioka, after Jack Diamond pounced on a stray pass out of defence by Bernard. It was the only shot on target of the first half.
Ricky Sbragia’s half-time pep-talk appeared to have had the desired effect as the Reds were more lively and direct as the second half got under way. Sunderland’s Polish-born goalkeeper Max Stryjek and his defence were kept busy as United pursued the equaliser, but their frequent forays into the Sunderland half failed to bear fruit as the midway point of the half was reached.
United would have conceded for a second time, on 70 minutes, but for Alex Fojticek’s terrific fingertip save that prevented Diamond’s bending strike from entering the net. Burkart looked to have a good claim for a penalty when he was felled close to goal by Denver Hume after getting on the end of Traore’s cross, but the referee would have none of it.
United deserved, on the strength of their second-half showing, at least a point from this game and that became a distinct possibility with nine minutes left. Galbraith’s clever ball fed Burkart and his cross was converted at the far post by Ramazani, who showed great desire to beat Jordan Hunter to the final touch after a move containing 19 passes in all.
Ramazani and Traore had late chances to bag a winner but it remained honours even at the final whistle.
United: Fojticek; Tanner (Olosunde 67), Ercolani, Bernard, O’Connor; Levitt, Galbraith, Traore; Burkart, Bohui, Ramazani.
Substitutes not used: Woolston, Warren, McGhee.
Scorers: Kimpioka 36 | Ramazani 81