Travis Binnion’s Manchester United Under-18s side will host Leicester City in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals today after dismantling the Everton side that visited Old Trafford at the beginning of the month.
The goals came from Charlie McNeill, Kobbie Mainoo, Sam Mather and Alejandro Garnacho in what was eventually a 4-1 win for United, however, it was the Toffies who opened the scoring in the 11th minute when Francis Okoronkwo finished well from a tight angle.
It was only three minutes later when United responded with McNeill’s well-placed penalty after Garnacho won the spot-kick in dubious fashion. The lead was taken mid-way through the second half through Mainoo’s well-timed header and then extended twice after a dominant second half display, which included a wonderful solo goal in the last minute of the game from the Spanish Garnacho.
Captain on the night Rhys Bennett was full of praise for his team on the night, who battled against an impressive Everton frontline.
“I’m very happy to get through to the next round.” Bennett told UtdDistrict after victory at Old Trafford earlier this month. “It wasn’t easy in the early stages of the game but I thought we battled well, kept solid as a defensive line and the strikers did their job upfront and finished the job.
“I thought their nine was a very strong lad. A lot of pace and they were quite direct at times so it was tough, a challenging game early on with long balls in behind. I thought we did well to adjust to that and second half we came out a lot better and a lot more solid.”
The defender was also clear on the belief he had in his team to turn the game around despite going behind early on.
“We lost the goal early on, but it’s one of those, we don’t let our heads drop, we don’t ever let our heads drop. I thought I just had to keep them going until the final whistle and we got the first goal shortly after and I just said no more conceding and we started getting the next goals.
“I’m always confident because I have faith in my players. It was difficult going down one goal so early in the game, but I had confidence throughout and as soon as that first goal went in I thought we could go on to beat them because we had good quality throughout.”
The young side were able to put on the stellar performance in front of 5,000 United supporters, including family of the players. Bennett announced his pride to lead his team out of the tunnel in front of the Stretford End, but also stated that he and his squad are have the right mentality for the upcoming fixtures.
“It’s amazing having my grandparents and my parents in the stands and the fans here, it’s an amazing experience to play at Old Trafford with fans, it’s what it’s all about. It’s what we all want to go on and do and have a good career but if you can play at the Theatre of Dreams then it’s amazing.
“I think that’s very important in football; not to get carried away. That’s job done tonight but we’ve got the quarter-finals up next, Leicester are a good side, we’ve got to take it step by step and not get complacent or carried away and we’ve got to do the job next round.
“It’s a very prestigious club, it’s a very prestigious cup and I think it’d be amazing for us to go on and win it. We’ve got a very strong side and I believe in us all the way, but it’s never going to be easy because it’s a very tough competition and there’s still some very good teams in it, but I have confidence that we can go and do well but it’s very important that we don’t get complacent and we keep winning those games convincingly.”
17-year-old midfielder Omari Forson echoed his captain’s thoughts, and is confident that the team can bypass whichever opposition in put in front of them.
“It was a surreal moment playing at Old Trafford, it was just great to get out there. I think I played OK, I could’ve done better but we’re through to the next round.” Forson explained.
“Playing here is special, I want to do this as a career and I want to be in the first team so to do it today was special.
“When we want 1-0 down, I knew it was just a blip and we just needed to restart and go again and we’d be alright.”
“I think if we play our football, and I know how we can play, I think we can beat anyone on our day. We’ve got the ability in attack and defence to win any game at any moment. The main objective is to win this tournament, that’s what we want to do.”
Forson is one of the most exciting talents in the youth ranks at Carrington. He had a brilliant first season with the under-18s last campaign and even impressed in a couple of appearances for Neil Wood’s Under-23s in the tail-end of the season.
“As a ten yeah” Forson explained when asked about his best position. “I like to get on the ball. I like to create, I like to score. I didn’t do that today [vs Everton] but that’s the player I am, that’s what I like doing.”
Meanwhile, Marc Jurado is another youngster who wants to progress into the first team in the coming years after moving to the club from Barcelona last season.
“I think here you have more opportunities to arrive to the first team,” The right-back detailed when asked the difference between United and Barcelona. “That’s why I came here, to play in the Premier League. I’m ready for everything.
“I think Anthony [Elanga] for us is a great example. We have to see him and work hard to be there.”
As an attacking right-back, Jurado was delighted to deliver a wonderful cross to assist Mainoo’s goal against Everton.
“Playing as a full-back, I love it going forward and to assist and to score goals as well if I can,” Jurado explained. “At full-back I think it’s good to attack and defend.
“I remember two weeks ago I was talking with the coach about this.” He said when asked about his contribution. “I’m so happy to get this assist.”
His manager was also glad that he was able to register an assist from a crossing position.
“He knows that his crossing has had to improve and obviously he’s a really good technician so him not to deliver crosses to that level and him not to be a threat with the ball shouldn’t be the case.” Binnion explained.
“So for him to get an assist tonight and show that he’s got that quality; fair play to him.”
Another Spanish youngster who’s excelling for United’s youth side is 18-year-old Garnacho.
The left winger has been a standout in the FA Youth Cup so far, and his strong performance against the Toffies was rewarded in the last minute with the goal of the match, where he ran from his own half to dispatch the final blow for the opposition.
In the last moments of the match, the ability for the youngster to drive the length of the pitch was very impressive and praised by his manager.
“I think it’s good for him in terms of doing that at the end of the game shows his improving fitness levels and how he’s approaching training better and approaching games better and it’s just rewards for him that late on in the game to show that level of fitness, it validates everything he’s doing really.”
Meanwhile, the manager also spoke on goalscorer Charlie McNeill and midfielder Dan Gore; who made his first start in the competition against Everton.
“Charlie McNeill is capable of doing a lot.” He said when questioned on the striker’s unselfish play in the build-up to United’s second goal. “So we expect that of him. I think the fact that you mentioned it probably shows that he hasn’t done it as consistently as what a player of his ability could do, so he’s learning.
“I think his movement was outstanding tonight. It’s really impressed me having not worked with him a lot that his movements really good. I thought he worked ever so hard, looked after the ball, he was a goal threat, he stretched the two centre halves and he linked well.
“I think it was pretty much a complete centre forwards display and he always sniffs a goal out, tonight it was from the penalty spot but he could’ve had more.”
“Dan Gore is an excellent young player. What we have in the middle of the pitch there with Dan, Kobbie and Maxi and the boys coming through beneath them is real competition for places and that’s so important.” Binnion explained. “They all push each other everyday, they all challenge each other and they’re all developing nicely. It’s hard to select at the minute, Dan got the nod tonight and we’ll see how the next few weeks go before Leicester.”
Speaking on his team as a whole, Binnion highlighted the improvements that they have been making.
“I think that we’ve got better in all aspects of the game. There’s still loads to do but they’re an honest group, they’re getting better with the ball, I think that’s evident for everyone to see.
“We’re getting better without the ball, we’re getting stronger and fitter.” He added. “It’s quite a young team so lads are learning big aspects of the game week on week and we know what they’re working at individually and we’re seeing the benefits of that as a team.”
He then explained that United are prepared for a tougher test against Leicester next week.
“Listen, Leicester are a really good side, they’ve lost two games all season so they’ll be coming here fancying their chances. Leicester will be better than Everton so we’ll have to be better than what we were again tonight. We’ve got Chelsea on Saturday in the Premier League cup quarter finals so we’re grounded already.”
However, the manager downplayed the importance of winning the competition despite believing the team has the quality to bypass Leicester and instead focused on the experiences and development for his squad.
“Of course it’d be nice [to win the FA Youth Cup], but real development is these lads going on to having the best careers they can and taking steps. I think the bigger thing is with each win they have at this level, they’re taking steps forwards having careers because they’re adding to their experiences and they’re learning on the job. I think that’s the really pleasing thing.
“Listen, cup competitions are really hard to win, so in terms of trying to win another three games in this and win another three games in the Premier League cup, it’s going to be really hard because the games come thick and fast.
“We take each game as it comes and the nice thing is they’re going to have a third opportunity to play at Old Trafford in a youth cup run. They’ve had the confidence of winning here twice already so we’ll be backing ourselves to go and win the next game.”
Leicester City’s U18s will be travelling to Old Trafford today to face the young Reds in the FA Youth Cup quarter-final.