August 29, 2009

29/08/09 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 1-3 Manchester United U18s, Spurs Lodge

A sunny but chill morning for Spurs U18’s first home game of the season against Manchester United. Last week Spurs lost 3-2 at Boro, whereas United lost 3-1 to Southampton.

Nice to see Tim Sherwood again watching the Academy side (and giving the ref some stick!), and Dawson and Woodgate, presumably in for some treatment, giving the young lads some support too.

Note: my timing’s may be slightly off, I was trying to keep track on my phone.

Still experimenting with the new intake and coping without the best players from last season, Inglethorpe set up his team in a 4-4-2, with M’Poku in an unusual role for him – central midfield. In these games, clubs are allowed to name three “overage” players, and so Spurs were able to include Janssen, Cox, and our summer acquisition from Arsenal, Blackwood.

Jansson (18)
Durojaiye (16) Blackwood (18) Cox (18) Francis-Angol (16?)
Byrne (17) Parrett (17) M’Poku (17) McBride (16)
Oyenuga (16) Kane © (16)

Subs:

Fredericks (16) for M’Poku, 55.
Ekim (17) for Francis-Angol, 70.
O’Neill (17) for McBride, 75.

Not used:
Nicholson (17)
Butler (17)

The game started with Spurs kicking from right to left, and it didn’t take long for United to settle, playing crisp passes (often first time) and moving the ball across the pitch with ease, rather like Spurs managed to do last season. With only 2 minutes on the clock, Anton Blackwood totally misread a pass and, in trying to recover, was beaten for pace and strength by the United forward, John Cofie, who finished low through Oscar Jansson’s legs.

On 7 minutes Spurs had their most encouraging attack so far, with McBride breaking well, but firing a rather tame cross-come-shot safely into the arms of Conor Devlin, the United goalkeeper. Unfortunately on 13 minutes, another Blackwood error was punished by a superb finish from the left side of the box by their skipper, Robbie Brady.

Parrett, for the second time in the match, showed some responsible defending in the corner, tracking a runner before taking control of the ball and winning a throw.

United’s Norweigian striker, Josh King was absolutely dominant in the air and, in fact, dominant on the ground too. Cox obviously isn’t the biggest, but Blackwood must be close to 6 foot, and King seemed to be a foot above him in the air at times – he had the ability to get up early and just hang. His first touch was generally imamculate too, and he was really giving our lads the runaround.

With just over 20 minutes gone, Jansson came out to smother a through ball, but ended up handling just outside the box – although we felt that he released the ball in time. The referee decided that a free-kick was punishment enough (with covering players around), and so no further action was taken. The free-kick led to a corner, and at this point M’Poku absolutely bellowed at the Spurs boys to get organised, using the phrase “flipping heck”, which tickled me.

Spurs had 5 or so minutes of better possession, but nothing really came off any of our attacking moves. We did win a free kick, which Kane rather weakly curled into the keeper’s hands but, shortly after, the game was effectively over as a contest. United sprang a Spurs off-side trap and, with Blackwood effectively stood with his hand in the air waiting for the whistle, Josh King rounded Jansson calmly and slid home.

Spurs nearly responded immediately – Harry Kane pulled away from the United centre backs and curled a beauty of a shot on to the angle of post and bar.

On 37 minutes, Paul-Jose M’Poku, to this point by far our most effective player, went down under a heavy challenge, screaming in agony. He came back on and limped heavily through the rest of the half.

There followed a fairly even passage, and McBride showed signs of getting the better of the huge full back, Reece Brown (brother of Wes). He beat his man, and was brought down on the left of the box. Dean Parrett whipped a free kick into the near post, but it was well defended.

Spurs ended the first half with Blackwood moving to right-back, and Durojaiye partnering Sam Cox at centre back.

Inglethorpe didn’t make any changes at half time, meaning that, amazingly, M’Poku returned for the second half, still limping heavily, and Blackwood continued at right back, where he could do less damage. Straight from kick-off, United’s industrious midfield player Ryan Tunnicliffe, burst forward powerfully, running to the edge of the box where he was brought down. The free kick was struck low and hard and, when it took a deflection, it was fortunately straight at Jansson.

What turned out to be a consolation goal for Spurs came about when a Parrett corner was easily cleared. McBride quickly gave it back to Dean, he beat two men between the corner flag and the goal, before his shot crept over the line, seemingly helped in by Oyenuga.

Spurs were living dangerously, though, and United slipped a great chance wide 8 minutes into the second half, with just Janssen to beat – not the first clear cut chance that they’d failed to get on target. Fredericks came on for M’Poku, clearly still struggling with the injury he’d picked up earlier. Kane moved into central midfield, with Fredericks partnering Kudus Oyenuga up front.

Spurs were playing better at the start of the second half. Parrett showed some terrific skill – having been bundled to the floor, he carried on, beating a player with quick feet before getting back up and eventually shooting on goal, the shot deflected straight into the keeper’s hands. McBride had a useful run and cross down the left, and Oyenuga also had a run and shot which came to nothing.

Unfortunately for Spurs, they didn’t manage to score again whilst they were on top, and the game became fairly scrappy as we let it peter out. Ekim came on for Francis-Angol and, at this point, Kane moved back up front, with Byrne moving to left back, and Fredericks coming over to the right hand side. The final change saw O’Neill come on for the tiring McBride.

Overall a poor performance from a much-changed Spurs team. Last season’s best performers have gone out on loan, and Inglethorpe is still experimenting with team shape, and with the positions of one or two players. I think it’s important to remember how different this team is to the last one that played at Spurs Lodge back on the 2nd May – a 4-1 win over West Ham. Strange that Calum Butcher, who is one who hasn’t gone on loan, didn’t play as an overage player – we could have done with his commanding presence at centre back.

Jansson – wasn’t as busy in goal as he perhaps should have been (United put a lot of chances off target) but when he was called upon he was slightly clumsy. His kicking was poor – one was smashed straight up in the air, one sliced behind him for example. He charged out a couple of times to clear his lines, and this was successful once, but on the other occasion he gave away a dangerous free-kick for handball (although to us this looked a little harsh). 5/10

Durojaiye – he struggled to get forward from right-back (which I gather is his natural position), but looked OK at centre back. Didn’t win too many aerial battles but, against two strong players like John Cofie and Josh King, I don’t think he stood much chance. Interesting that at 16 he was the one offering instructions to Blackwood for periods of the second half. 4/10

Blackwood – it was a nightmare of a game for him but, most worryingly, it wasn’t the first time I’d seen him perform like this. I hope there’s more to come from him and that he wasn’t just signed to make up the numbers. 2/10

Cox – slightly odd seeing Cox play at centre back, but he did OK, particularly on the cover. He was also one of the most vocal Spurs players, giving plenty of encouragement. Naturally he struggled to compete in the air, but he was a lot more solid than either of his defensive partners. 6/10

Francis-Angol – again, it’s important to remember how young he is but, given that he’s a natural left back and so was playing in a familiar position, I didn’t see much to fill me with hope. Always willing to receive the ball, but often he’d just pass it straight back to where it had come from. Struggled defensively to cope with Nicky Ajose on United’s right, and also didn’t get foward to support Paul McBride. 3/10

Byrne – I was really disappointed with Byrne, probably more than any other player, since I’d seen him play so well against West Ham in May. He actually looked weaker than he did last year, and a less willing runner. Yes, he didn’t get much support from either Blackwood or Durojaiye, but he pretty much offered nothing all game. 3/10

Parrett – if he had showed the guts, drive, and ability that he showed in a twenty-minute spell in the second half for the rest of the game, I would have been delighted with his performance. As it is, I’m still left wondering what his best position is, and what his exceptional qualities are. As I say, for those twenty minutes, he really stamped his authority on the game and looked like one of the best players on the pitch. I was also pleased to see him track back twice in the first half to good effect. 6/10

M’Poku – easily Spurs’ best player going forward, and it was a shame that he picked up a knock, as he looked our most likely route to a goal. I’d not seen him play centrally before, and I don’t think the balance was at all right with him and Parrett in there, but he looked (physically and technically) our best player by a margin. 7/10

McBride – the most impressive of the players I’d not seen before. He needs time to fill out and develop, but he was keen to try to beat his man, and looked to have a few tricks up his sleeve. Without much pace and strength, it’s hard to know whether he’ll ever make it as a genuine winger, and perhaps he’ll end up playing centrally, but I look forward to following his progress over the course of the season. 5/10

Oyenuga – it’s hard to know what to say about his performance. Whilst he, at times, looked like he may get the better of the United defence with some physical play, he never actually managed it. His first touch is not yet good enough to allow him to hold the ball up successfully, nor does he really have the burst of pace to get in behind. 4/10

Kane – Harry’s been given the armband this year, but he doesn’t seem particularly vocal. Another one where I’m really not sure what type of player he is – he seemed to drop off a lot today, almost as if he’s been asked to play the Mason role but, to me, he looks better pulling wide, or playing further up the pitch so that he can get into the box and get on the end of things. When moved into central midfield he looked cumbersome and uncomfortable. 4/10

Fredericks – in fairness to him, he didn’t see much of the ball. He showed a couple of nice touches, but didn’t create anything or trouble the United backline.

Ekim – again, it’s important to remember how young these lads are but, at the moment, I think he has a long, long way to go. Doesn’t seem quick enough in terms of thought and feet.

O’Neill – didn’t really influence the game in any meaningful way but, like Fredericks, showed some neat touches. Wanted to drop his shoulder and come inside but, the way the United central midfield players played, that was a mistake.

So plenty of room for improvement for our lads and, given that they are so young, they could learn a few more tough lessons this year. I have faith in Inglethorpe to find more balance – I don’t think Parrett and M’Poku in the middle is right but, without the physical presence of Kasim, it’s easy to understand why he maybe wanted the more physical M’Poku in there to combat the power of Tunnicliffe. Oyenuga and Kane need time to gel, and we have plenty more first year players to come in where necessary.

A quick word on the United side. Really accomplished performance from them overall – Josh King was the star of the show, and I imagine he may make the bench this year. Looks a really talented player, and has a bit of everything. Ryan Tunncliffe is a hard-working, driving midfield player, with a strong upper body and a good attitude. His midfield partner, Etzaz Hussain, who is only 16, played the game the way I like to see it played – did the simple things well, worked hard defensively, andshowed a decent range of passing. With Reece Brown very strong and quick at right back behind Nicky Ajose, very much a flair player, they look a team capable of beating anyone on their day. Worth noting that, like us, United have a few players who started elsewhere elsewhere, and also interesting to note their ages:

Devlin – 17
Brown – 17
Fryers – 16
Wootton – 17
McGinty – 15, signed from Charlton this summer.
Hussain – 16, signed from Langhus IL in January.
Ajose – 17
Tunnicliffe – 16
King – 17, signed from Valerenga a year ago.
Cofie – 16, signed from Burnley two years ago.
Brady – 17, signed 18-months ago from St Kevins Boys in Dublin.

After the game, we got talking to a confident young guy called Omar, who told us that he had been on trial at Spurs for three weeks – he said that he’d scored two and made five in a high-scoring win against Stevenage in the week, but that due to “politics”, he wasn’t playing today and, instead, that he would be taking up the offer of a trial at Chelsea on Monday.
I asked him if he knew the two South African players, Masibusane Zongo and Kamohelo Mokotjo, who had been on trial with us. It turned out that he knows them, and he recommended Zongo in particular as a direct winger with an eye for goal (actually he said, “he gets the ball and BANG! goal”!), but said that they didn’t like it here, and therefore won’t be signing. He said that Dean Parrett was the most impressive of the Spurs players and that Fulham, his old club, had a better Academy side than Spurs.

Official Site report.
Spurs Odyssey report to follow here.
United perspective – I’m quite encouraged that they picked out the same star men for United as me!

NB: Forgot to mention that Bostock was there, on crutches, and with his foot/ankle in a cast.

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    RT @thfcacademy: Highly rated Ipswich U15 midfielder Ben Knight is playing for Spurs in a tournament in San Diego this weekend.
    4 hours ago