FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP RESERVE SHIELD
(North v South Play-Off Final Ė at Old Trafford)
THURSDAY 4TH MAY, 2006
MANCHESTER UNITED RESERVES 2 (2) SPURS RESERVES 0 (0)
Referee: - Mark Halsey
Attendance: - Est. 1500
Man Utd (4-4-2):- Howard; Gray, Evans, Pique, Lee; Neumayr (Capt.), Fletcher (sub Jones, 69), Gibson, Rose (sub Mullan, 80); Campbell, Solskjaer (sub Rossi, 46)
Subs not used: - Steele; Shawcross
Spurs (4-4-2):- Burch; McKenna, Lee (Capt.), Bunjevcevic, McKie (sub Martin, 46); Lewis (sub Riley, 46), Jackson, Marney, Maghoma; Barcham (sub Hamed, 80), Dawkins
Subs not used: - Forecast; Mills
Spurs were forced to play the most prestigious game of the season with perhaps the weakest side they have fielded throughout their highly successful campaign. They were forced to miss top scorer Lee Barnard, and rising talent such as Tom Huddlestone and Hossam Ghaly, each of whom are required for first team squad duty this week-end. Number Two keeper Radek Cerny has played plenty of games too, but was also being held back for Sundayís crucial final game of the Premiership season. Add to these absences, those of the injured Charlie Daniels and star-loanee Jamie OíHara, and you have to recognise that the players available put on a brave show against an excellent and classy Manchester United side that won as a result of a goal from a contested free kick, and a stunning Solskjaer strike, both scored within 4 minutes midway through the first half.
United fielded a strong side in front of a sparsely populated Old Trafford. There was Solskjaer, who had kept star reserve striker Guiseppe Rossi out till half time, along with Darren Fletcher and Tim Howard. Pique too has made several first team appearances for the Northern Reserve League Champions.
Clive Allen (who could clearly be heard booming encouragement throughout) made one or two tactical changes, perhaps to try and combat the United midfield expertise of Fletcher and Gibson, moving Marney and Jackson inside, whilst the inexperienced Lewis and Maghoma were left to labour away on the flanks. Sadly their efforts gave the two strikers little service, and Howard was hardly tested. The two Spurs full backs have also only recently recovered from injury, and at half time McKie was replaced by Martin, and Kieran McKenna moved to the midfield, being replaced at right back by Chris Riley. Lewis was the player to be withdrawn. Spurs woes were only multiplied when Rob Burch was injured in a late challenge, and had to be stretchered off. Spurs had used all their substitutes and Charlie Lee volunteered for duty between the sticks. Premiership referee Mark Halsey showed mercy by ending the match a minute ahead of the allotted two minutes of added time!
Spurs had started the game well, with Dean Marney to the fore as playmaker. However, the home side had the first of a number of threatening attacks after 7 minutes, when left back Kieran Lee made a good run down the left channel, exchanged with Rose, and got into the box, when his attempted short cross was cleared. McKenna was struggling with Rose, and must have been relieved to be moved forward at half time! Spurs had a good move five minutes later through Marney, Dawkins and Maghoma, who won a corner with a clever back-heel against a defender. However, as the heavens opened, United broke from the Spurs corner, and skipper Neumayrís cross from the right just eluded Frazier Campbell, scorer of 9 reserve goals this season. Rob Burch was unconvincing when coming out for a long ball from the right, which Campbell headed over the bar. However, Burchís confidence must have rocketed minutes after that, when he got down well to Neumayrís 25 yard shot.
Marney had a go from distance after a short run, but Spurs went behind following the award of a free kick against Marcel McKie for a handball near the touchline. Spurs contested that the ball had gone out of play, before the ball was kicked against McKie, but the decision was marginal and sadly went against the visitors. It was Neumayrís kick that was only half-cleared by Spurs as far as Gibson, whose shot was deflected into the goal by Pique, lurking in the 6 yard area. Depending on which side of the fence you sat, it was either a lucky flick, or a wonderful piece of skill!
Spurs had hardly had time to regain any remaining composure, when Solskjaer collected from Rose, and hit a stunning left foot shot, rising all the way, hitting the roof of the net. United never looked back really, and whilst Spurs half-time adjustments brought more possession and occupancy of the opponentsí half, it did not bring penetration. Rossiís skill allowed a pass inside to Campbell, who hit a soft shot across Burch, but was cleared off the line by Joe Martin. Spurs other replacement full back, Chris Riley did well in the opposite half, and fed back to McKenna, whose cross was met by Dawkins header, but unfortunately off target.
After 66 minutes, Rossi, showed brilliant control, collecting a high ball from deep on the right, but Goran Bunjevcevic stood firm and the shot rebounded off his legs. John Jackson nearly scored with a trademark free kick, and whilst Howard was scrambling, the ball fell outside the stanchion to his left. Rob Burch saved a Gibson screamer with his legs, without knowing too much about it, and with 8 minutes left, the Spurs keeper came out bravely at the feet of Campbell, and his own Charlie Lee. Lee came out with the ball and cleared, but Burch was in pain, and had to be carried off. Lee volunteered for emergency net duty, but escaped unscathed and untested.
It was a brave performance from the Spurs lads, against the team that beat Charlton 4-1 at The Valley in the corresponding game last season. Clive Allenís team has every reason to be very, very proud of their season. I have certainly enjoyed watching them throughout.
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