Manchester United U21s have entered the Papa John’s Trophy for the third consecutive season.
They started their 2021/22 campaign off with a 3-2 loss to Lincoln City and followed it with a 3-0 thrashing of League Two Bradford City on Tuesday (September 21) night.
The game on Tuesday night was a bit of a nothing contest for the first half. Both teams had little to shout about but equally that could have been attributed to good defensive work.
Alvaro Fernandez, a particularly exciting left-back of United’s, started on the right, despite his usual preference for the left-hand side. However, at half-time, manager Neil Wood switched things up, taking defender Bjorn Hardley off for talented forward Dillon Hoogewerf, switching Fernandez back to his preferred side. That move changed the game.
United came out a whole new team and Bradford City simply couldn’t cope with the threat of Dillon Hoogewerf and Shola Shoretire – who both played key roles in securing victory for the Red Devils.
Eventually, Charlie Savage’s deflected effort went in off Yann Songo’o, Dillon Hoogewerf assisted Joe Hugill before finishing the game off himself.
Paul McShane, who is a player-coach in the setup, played the game and helped the defensive line look a lot more solid after a poor start v Lincoln City in the opening group game.
The 3-2 loss at Lincoln City’s Sincil Bank was an interesting one as United were all over the place at the back to start with. Lincoln were 3-0 up by the 57th minute and probably should have been more.
However, the United U21 side showed a trait so often shown by the senior side, they didn’t give up. They fought back well from then on and Charlie McNeill struck a nice finish to get them back into things. Bjorn Hardley bagged his first United U21s goal to put them one behind with minutes remaining. Manchester United U21 had the senior Lincoln City side on the ropes in the closing stages.
Hannibal Mejbri showed one of his worst traits. Getting sent off just moments following a booking. Neil Wood has previously addressed the need for the Tunisia international to improve his discipline.
The fight shown from the young Red Devils on the night was something to be proud of. They went from 3-0 down to looking like they were the team 3-0 up. Against senior Football League professionals too, that is something to hold highly.
Ever since their introduction to the Papa John’s Trophy, Manchester United U21s have done fairly well considering it is very much men against boys – and they’re the boys.
In 2019/20, their inaugural campaign, United U21s won all three of their games, topping the group. That year saw them beat Rotherham United 3-0, Lincoln City 1-0 and Doncaster Rovers 2-1 – with a late winner from none other than Mason Greenwood.
This competition gives these players a platform to learn senior football, especially if they’ve not experienced it out on loan.
Tranmere Rovers knocked them out in the first knockout round – another game United really put up a fight in.
United again got out of the group in 2020/21. They finished second, just below Salford City despite beating them 6-0. A 4-0 loss to Morecambe was not their finest moment in the competition costing them first place.
Again, United were eliminated in the first knockout round, this time by Accrington Stanley, another fight-filled display and 3-2 loss.
This year they will hope to go further but at the end of the day as long as the lessons are learned, involvement in the competition is a positive thing.