Neil Wood’s Manchester United Under-23 side continued a strong run of form with a dominant 4-1 win against Middlesbrough in the Premier League 2.
The trip to the Riverside Stadium against fourth place Boro could have been a tricky evening, but United’s youngsters had too much pace, energy and firepower for the hosts.
United struggled to carve out any clear cut chances in the opening stages, but in the 19th minute Arnau Pugimal curled a wonderful free kick into the top corner, which clipped the bar from 25 yards out to give United the lead.
United doubled their lead in the second minute of first half injury time. Chong, who was captaining the side, delivered a good ball into the area and Puigmal guided a first time finish into the far bottom corner from 10 yards out for his second of the evening.
The hosts reduced the deficit with 15 minutes remaining after a good run by Daniel Dodds down the right and Rumam Burrell got a touch on the cross to put it past Kovar.
United restored their two goal lead after Hannibal Mejbri produced a delicious defence splitting pass to release Chong, the Dutchman’s shot deflected off Dodds past Sol Brynn.
Wood’s side ensured the game was dead and buried in the 85th minute, after a lovely ball from Elanga fell to Chong after Mellor’s goalbound volley was blocked.
Chong cleverfully found some space before smashing the ball past the goalkeeper at his near post with his left foot.
Here are four players who were influential in the positive result.
After back-to-back errors against Swansea and Doncaster Rovers, Kovar was back to his dominant and assured best.
United would have fallen behind in the 9th minute if it wasn’t for the Czech stopper’s lightening reflexes.
Hackney’s effort from the edge of the area was deflected off Mengi and looked to be looping over Kovar, but the Czech stopper managed to adjust and get an outstretched arm to the effort and push it to safety.
Boro were given an opportunity to equalise two minutes after Puigmal’s opener after Mengi naively tripped Walker to gift the hosts a penalty.
Kovar got down well to his left to keep out Boro captain Ben Liddle’s penalty and keep his side in front. It has been a common theme of Kovar’s performances this season, making crucial saves at pivotal moments in matches.
The Spanish midfielder flourished in his favoured central midfield role and benefited from the unfortunate absence of Ethan Galbraith due to illness.
Puigmal had been frequently used as a right-back earlier in the season due to Ethan Laird’s injury, but his performance in the centre of the park on Teesside showed the ball playing talent he possesses.
The 18-year-old wasn’t willing to let Marcus Rashford hog all the free kick headlines, Pugimal produced a real moment of inspiration for his side.
Pugimal produced an all action display that would have delighted Wood. He was dictacting the tempo in possession, but also showed a real desire to press and harray the opposition.
His second goal came from his work rate, he intercepted a pass in the Boro half, played in Chong, who returned the favour and Puigmal produced a clinical finish.
He was substituted in the 76th minute after a very impressive evening.
The Dutchman’s future has become a cause for concern due to his expiring contract, but he gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a timely reminder of his qualities ahead of Thursday’s home clash against Partizan Belgrade.
There was no Angel Gomes, Brandon Williams, James Garner or Mason Greenwood alongside Chong for the under-23s. It must be quite difficult for him at the moment seeing his mates featuring in the senior matchday squads on a regular basis.
However, there was no sulking in his performance and as the game went on his pace and dribbling ability proved too much to handle for the Boro defence.
A goal and two assists wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by Solskjaer. Hopefully Chong has a chance to impress on Thursday night.
The 16-year-old was only on the pitch for 15 minutes, but that was more than enough time for him to show why United splashed the cash on him.
Mejbri was denied from making an instant impact as his deflected effort was pushed out for a corner.
The Frenchman produced the pass of the match to release Chong for United’s third goal.
He carved the Borough defence in half and showed the awareness, vision and passing range he has in abundance.
A common theme during the latter stages of the match was Mejbri getting fouled, but it didn’t deter the youngster, he was eager to get on the ball with every opportunity.
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