Craving one more match to eek the season out, I jumped at my friend Justyn’s suggestion of attending the FA Youth Cup final, first leg. Conveniently it transpired that, in contrast to the first team, Sheffield United have a more-than-decent crop of youngsters starting to emerge through the ranks, meaning said final was just down the road. The fact that their opponents were Manchester United, nine-time winners of the competition, and tickets were just £3 only sugar-coated the deal.
Everyone present was rewarded with a brilliant game, which was a testament to the youth development at both clubs and the grand old competition itself. Man United may have the greater prestige and a number of players, tipped to make the first team in the next few years, are becoming quite well known, but the Blades side matched them and thoroughly deserved the 2-2 draw which kept the second leg at Old Trafford well poised.
The future of Man United appears in good hands – while this side was lacking the defensive solidity of their esteemed first team clubmates, not to mention the almost mandatory late winning goal, they had clearly been raised the United Way. Indeed, the opening moments saw the visitors zip the ball around with abandon and confidence, even around their own penalty area, with Sheffield United left chasing shadows. At times, the players on display – Ryan Tunnicliffe, Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, and Will Keane - could easily have been transposed with Carrick, Giggs, Scholes and Rooney.
The opening goal became inevitable, but the Blades could be rightfully peeved at the manner of its arrival. In the lower tier of the away stand 100 yards away, it was impossible to tell, but Jesse Lingard’s header probably didn’t cross the line before Harry Maguire, the defender who was one of a handful of these players to have been fed into the senior side towards the end of the campaign, headed clear.
The response was emphatic. Growing in confidence as the half drew on, the Blades equalised through a wonderful strike from Callum McFadzean. Collecting the ball near the half-way line, he drove deeper and deeper into Mancunian territory before unleashing a sweet 25-yarder into the bottom corner. Clearly a player to watch, the goal would have graced any final and other, similar clichés.