More than three-and-a-half thousand fans turned out to see Manchester United progress to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup. A complete performance from captain Teden Mengi hauled the Reds across the line against a talented Wigan Athletic team who caused some serious problems.
Deji Sotona grabbed a second-half winner for United after both teams had netted in the first through Shola Shoretire and Sean McGurk. Though Mengi dominated, he was joined by a number of other high-performing teammates. Here’s United’s three stand-out players.
It was a display described as ‘monstrous’ by more than one observer at Old Trafford on Friday night. Mengi is a natural leader and defender and this was a tour de force. A loose first touch in the second minute was the only mistake in an otherwise exemplary showing.
Mengi’s reading of the game has rapidly improved since he moved up to the under-23s in August. Though Wigan’s Kyle Joseph and Sean McGurk worked hard to find space in United’s defence, Mengi allowed none of it.
He stepped across in the first half to mop up a Ben Hockenhull error, was utterly dominant in the air in his own half and stepped out well as he always does.
Everything Mengi did was defined by his reading of the game and it’s a credit to his work and that of the United coaching staff.
Blessed with an immense physique, Mengi is thumping his head against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s door with performances like these. A first team debut isn’t close but this season has been an excellent one with this performance one of his best at any level.
16-year-old Shola Shoretire could not be more contrasting to Mengi. Of small stature, the Anglo-Irish winger played on the left at Old Trafford.
He did well as he spent most of time drifting inside. That allowed left-back Reece Devine to step forward along the touchline and once he did, Shoretire combined with him well.
It was Shoretire who opened the scoring for United. Deji Sotona had missed a good opportunity only moments before but held the ball up superbly on the right side of the pitch, gave it to Charlie Wellens who continued the move.
Shoretire took the ball under his control and made the finish look easy when it wasn’t. He took it at the right time and guided it past two defenders and into the gap between goalkeeper Sam Tickle and his right post. For a player who turned 16 less than a month ago, Shoretire’s performance was so impressive.
Though United’s midfield of Mark Helm and Charlie McCann impressed, Hockenhull can be pleased with his best performance of the season.
The centre-back is the third choice for this FA Youth Cup side, normally starting on the bench in favour of Will Fish. But Fish, highly regarded in the England set-up as well as at United, has been injured for the last two rounds. Hockenhull replaced him well.
His defensive work was good, although there was one misjudged header in the first half, and he showed good ball-playing ability.
In the second half, with time on the ball, Hockenhull clipped a through ball over the top of the Wigan defence.
Sotona latched onto it, used his pace to get past James Carragher and scored United’s winner. It came from a smart piece of play from Hockenhull and he deserves credit for it.
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