Manchester United U23s proved a tough nut to crack despite going down to 10 men after only five minutes in their Premier League 2 fixture at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Captain Will Fish was sent off for depriving Brighton’s Tanimowo of a clear goalscoring opportunity. Neil Ryan shifted his United side around, moving central midfielder Ethan Galbraith back into defence. The Reds responded in exemplary fashion, working hard to maintain a solid defensive structure and offering attacking threat too.

Here are the players that stood out in United’s 0-0 draw with Brighton on Friday afternoon at Leigh Sports Village.

Matej Kovar heroics at windy Leigh Sports Village

A string of good saves from the Czech Republic goalkeeper kept the score level in the first half. The free-kick which followed Fish’s sending off was saved well by Kovar and so too was a long shot from Weir, a beautifully curled strike from Furlong and a powerfully-struck chance on a one-on-one from Jenks. They were the saves of a good goalkeeper.

LEIGH, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Max Taylor of Manchester United U23s in action during the Premier League 2 match between Manchester United U23s and Brighton and Hove Albion U23s at Leigh Sports Village on March 12, 2021 in Leigh, England.
Matej Kovar watches Max Taylor go up for a header (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

After the break, Kovar was rarely worked despite a long spell of Brighton dominance. After 80 minutes, though, an outstretched left boot of Kovar’s denied Moises Caicedo from a corner. Two minutes later, Kovar pushed out another good effort from Caicedo. Anoter two minutes after that, he denied Ferguson from close-range. In windswept conditions, Kovar delivered when United needed him to.

Joe Hugill runs give 10-man Manchester United U23s an outlet

Seven minutes after Will Fish was sent off, United sent a long ball over the top of the Brighton defence. Joe Hugill ran onto it and before it could drop to the floor and agonisingly bounce away, he took it down in fantastic fashion. The move came to nothing but it was a sign of the quality he would offer throughout.

 

Hugill’s reputation is blossoming at United due to his goalscoring record but this was a different type of performance. Hugill ran hard and often, moved between the centre-backs, made sure his first touch was good and held up the ball sensibly.

LEIGH, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Joe Hugill of Manchester United U23s in action during the Premier League 2 match between Manchester United U23s and Brighton and Hove Albion U23s at Leigh Sports Village on March 12, 2021 in Leigh, England.
(Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

One example that summed it up was on 44 minutes, coming after United had struggled to keep the ball for a period. Hugill won the Reds a corner with good hold-up play on the right wing and relieved the pressure on his teammates.

Ethan Galbraith – versatile and composed throughout for United

Starting in central midfielder, it wasn’t long before Galbraith’s priorities had to change. The Northern Irishman slotted into defence after Fish’s red card. After an early loss of possession, his concentration snapped back in and he coped well. His composure on the ball, ability to pass with both feet and the quality of his long-range passes gave United a good base from which to build on. Defensively, Galbraith could be expected to struggle given it’s not his natural position and his stature is a small one. He did well.

Mid-way through the second half, Galbraith returned to midfield where, for a time at least, he looked ready to create the chance that would win United the game. On 74 minutes, he took a loose ball down, faced pressure from two Brighton players but, without looking up, knew where his teammates were. He turned between the Brighton players, reversed a pass round onto the right wing and opened the space up. It was excellent. After 81 minutes, he sent a fantastic diagonal ball to Dillon Hoogewerf but the Dutchman, who had an otherwise excellent impact off the bench, wasted the opportunity.

Brighton re-asserted their authority on the game, though, and Galbraith’s role became a defensive one once more.

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