Manchester City’s U23’s showed why their academy setup is regarded as one of the best in the country at White Hart Lane on Friday evening, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in an entertaining affair.
On a freezing night in N17, the visitors got off to a fantastic start when Javairo Dilrosun was played in on goal and slotted under an onrushing Alfie Whiteman to put City 1-0 up inside the opening 10 minutes. Prior to the goal, the game had been a messy affair with both sides giving the ball away constantly in midfield.
A minute after the opener, Spurs nearly found themselves level. Anton Walkes’ long ball was slightly ahead of Ryan Loft, but the striker slid to send the ball towards goal but the lack of pace meant Billy O’Brien was able to rush back to prevent an equaliser. At the other end, Whiteman comfortably held Paolo Fernandes’ long-range left-footed strike. However the City attacks were incessant. Demeaco Duhaney and Aaron Nemane combined down the right wing, however the former’s cross was headed away by Spurs right back, Kyle Walker-Peters.
Spurs starlet, Marcus Edwards saw his weak-footed attempt from inside the area saved by O’Brien after intercepting a loose pass. Minutes later, Luke Amos found Loft just outside the area but the striker could only drag his shot wide of the right hand post. Manchester City’s passing game led to plenty of fouls from the Tottenham side in an attempt to break up attacks in the opening half an hour. On 23 minutes, Fernandes took aim from distance again but Whiteman was able to gather his effort without trouble.
However the game took another turn on 24 minutes when Loft was sent off for a strong challenge on Duhaney. The decision from referee, Neil Hair looked to be harsh as Loft’s tackle was not overly dangerous or malicious and, on another day, a yellow card would have been the punishment. Tottenham were forced into a tactical change as Shilow Tracey played in a ‘false nine’ role for the remainder of the half.
A few minutes later, Joe Pritchard found Edwards outside the area but the 17 year old could only place his effort into the empty North Stand behind the goal. Edwards continued to pose a threat and Manchester City’s bench were constantly calling for their players to get “tighter” to the Tottenham playmaker, whose running style was compared to Lionel Messi by Mauricio Pochettino. “Mini Messi” came close again on 40 minutes but dragged a shot wide from just outside the box.
On 42 minutes, Anthony Georgiou received the ball from a Walker-Peters cross, turned his defender and struck a goal bound effort, only to see it cannon off the crossbar and away to safety. City went up the other end and after Joe Muscatt brought down Humphreys inside the area, the visitors were awarded a penalty. Fernandes stepped up and placed his effort to Whiteman’s right side but the Tottenham ‘keeper got down heroically to parry the ball away from his goal – much to the amazement of Fernandes and many inside White Hart Lane; and that brought about the end to an action packed half.
Within nine minutes of the second half, City doubled their lead. Fernandes and Brahim Diaz played a one-two inside Spurs’ penalty box and the former fired an effort to Whiteman’s right side, this time out of the goalkeeper’s reach.
Ugo Ehiogu called upon Shayon Harrison and Zenon Stylianides from the bench to try and get his side back into the game, whilst City brought on Will Patching. Harrison’s impact was almost immediate as he stabbed wide from an Edwards corner that had been flicked on by Charlie Owens.
For much of the half, City were able to play keep ball in an attempt to tire Spurs’ 10 men – and this was proving more and more successful as the clock ticked towards the 90th minute. Ehiogu’s last throw of the dice was Cy Goddard, who replaced Pritchard.
Whiteman’s sweeping ability was called upon a couple of times to prevent City counter attacks as Spurs pushed forward in search of a way back into the game. This patience and build up play from the hosts was rewarded with nine minutes to go. Georgiou’s bursting run from left back saw him brought down and Spurs were awarded a penalty. Like Whiteman, O’Brien dived the right way for Harrison’s penalty but couldn’t get anywhere near it – the striker tucked his effort calmly into the side netting and Spurs went in search of a deserved equaliser.
However, City were not going to shut up shop. Diaz and Fernandes combined on the edge of the area but the latter fired over from just inside the box; with Whiteman fuming at his defence for not closing the City attackers down quicker. Walkes was required to make a last ditch sliding tackle to prevent Diaz running in on goal and timed it to perfection in the 90th minute.
With five minutes added on, Spurs purposefully attacked and nearly found an equaliser. Edwards found Georgiou on the left and his cross to Harrison allowed the striker to turn, but he could only fire over – Spurs’ final chance of the night.
It was a difficult game for a young Spurs side against superb opposition, and they weren’t helped by going down to 10 men so early on – but there are positives to take for Ehiogu, especially some individual performances that can be built upon in the coming games.
Player Ratings (out of 10):
Whiteman: 8. Commanded his area well, sweeping up behind his defence on several occasions. His penalty save was outstanding and he had little chance for either goal. Looking better and better each game.
Walker-Peters: 8. It can’t be long before he makes his first-team debut. Attacked with purpose down the right wing and contained his winger fairly well. Gave away a couple of needless free-kicks, however.
Muscatt: 6. Struggled against a fantastic right back and winger and gave away City’s late first half penalty. Made a couple of adventurous runs but was hauled off in the second half. (Harrison, 59”)
Amos: 6. Returning from injury, it wasn’t quite the Amos that Spurs fans are used to seeing. Spent much of the game trying to stop Fernandes and looked understandably leggy before being taken off. A talent, but not fully fit yet. (Stylianides, 56”)
Walkes: 6. Made a fantastic pass early on and a superb tackle at the end of the game but allowed City’s Fernandes too much space in front of the defence and his clearances were unconvincing.
Owens: 7. Didn’t do anything outstanding but his passing was clever and won most of his headers in a position he’s not a regular in.
Tracey: 8. Seems to be improving week by week after joining from Ebbsfleet United. Ran at City’s defence with purpose and connected well with Walker-Peters on the right wing. Also occupied the false nine role well as Spurs looked better with 10 men.
Pritchard: 7. Made some incise passes in midfield and broke up play fairly well before being taken off. Nothing special but kept things ticking well. (Goddard, 75”)
Loft: N/A. His sending off came early on – and was incredibly harsh – so it’s difficult to make much of his game.
Edwards: 8. The boy wonder keeps on giving. His runs between the lines were superb and his close control is a sight to behold. Edwards’ tendency to hold on to the ball to long could be a worry but one can assume his distribution will become more frequent as he makes the step up and begins playing with better players – who he can trust more than some of his current teammates.
Georgiou: 7. His pace caused Duhaney problems in parts and his crossing could have been an asset with Loft up top. Also filled in well at left-back when Muscatt was taken off – a position he’s only played a handful of times at most.
Unused substitutes: Austin (GK), Maghoma.
City XI: O’Brien, Duhaney, Humphreys, Oliver (Wood, 65” (Davenport, 71”), Horsfield, Diallo (Patching, 56”), Nemane, Kongolo, Diaz, Fernandes, Dilrosun
Unused substitutes: Grimshaw (GK), Sarmiento.
Referee: Neil Hair
Man Of The Match: Paolo Fernandes
Match Rating: 4/5
By Nikhil Saglani