Three games, three wins, and another satisfying, impressive victory for the u18s. This wasn't easy. Blackburn were tough and committed. Very well organised too, even a little aggressive at times. Credit to City though, they stood up to it, continued playing football and, in the end, they deserved the three points. We were solid, limiting the opposition to only a handful of chances, most via set pieces, and after a disappointing ten minutes which saw City concede from a cross headed in from the right wing, we slowly asserted ourselves on the game. Faour scored an absolute beauty to level the scores minutes after going behind, curling one over the keeper into the top corner from 20 yards. Magnificent stuff - something he's clearly capable of. There's never been a question about that. There is magic in his boots, undoubtedly, but he struggled a little at times last year, looking a little lost amongst the physicality of English football as he drifted through games. This would have felt good for the Swedish forward - he more than played his part in a bruising encounter. He held the ball up well, working tirelessly across the frontline. A good performance.
He was joined in the front three by Fernandes and Dilrosun as Nmecha and Buckley dropped to the bench. Dilrosun ran incessantly at Blackburn - not everything came off, but once again he made a telling involvement, brilliantly breaking in the final few minutes as he skipped past two challenges before squaring to the substitute, and Faour's replacement, Nmecha. The rest was predictable - Nmecha finished with aplomb from ten yards to make it 3-1 to City, wrapping up the points. His third goal in as many games, and another exciting cameo for the young England striker. He's such an elegant footballer - there's shades of Anelka to the way he glides about the pitch, incredibly cool in possession and it'll prove some battle between Faour and him for the lone strikers slot. A lovely headache to have though. Fernandes was sprightly and skilful, stinging their keeper's hands with a powerful left footed effort as he cut in from the sidelines. In a niggly, tight game with little space, he struggled to get involved as the ball often ricocheted around the centre of the park. When he did receive it, he was perhaps a tad too over eager, overrunning it as he tried to do a little too much himself. His replacement, Isaac Buckley, worked well down the right as ever. He's such a tricky little player - a constant menacing thorn. His pace and skill proved a great outlet for Wilcox's team, notably when Blackburn were pressing for an equaliser before Nmecha settled the game.
|Callum Bullock & Lukas Nmecha|
Between Faour and Nmecha's goals, Demeaco Duhaney had put City in front moments after the second half kicked off. Some goal it was too, cutting inside from his left-back position onto his favoured right foot before wonderfully arcing the ball past the outstretched hands of Blackburn's number one. Not bad for a fullback, and not too dissimilar to Depay's goal for United midweek. Like Bullock on the other side, he was good defensively too - strong and persistent in the tackle and capably committed. Both were marshalled well by Charlie Oliver and Tosin Adarabioyo in the centre. Tosin's a real leader - he was the loudest voice on the pitch, constantly bellowing instructions at his teammates as he marshalled the defence. After a relatively nervy state where a few passes went astray, he was excellent. He reads the game marvellously, always seemingly in the right place at the right time. Oliver, too, seemed to revel in the grittier side of the match - a tough, uncompromising defender, he battled excellently with Blackburn's centre-forward, a real bruiser who left his foot in late on more than one occasion. He wasn't afraid to bring the ball out of defence either, strolling well into midfield as City built attacks.
Ahead of them, Wood and Diallo were strong and composed. Restored to his usual central midfield spot in the place of Davenport, Marcus Wood was everywhere, intelligently covering in defence whenever Tosin or Oliver stepped into midfield. It was a captain's performance, full of vigour and tenacity. It was never likely to be a game blessed with any real space or time on the ball - Blackburn made sure of that, and it was admirable that Diallo and Wood still both more than gave their own in those circumstances, Patching too. Diallo's a technically excellent footballer, but both him and Patching showed there's more than one side to their game, snapping into challenges and covering plenty of ground. Perhaps not quite as assured as normal, but a solid shift nonetheless. It wasn't quite Patching's day, despite a few typically silky forays into Blackburn's territory - there was notable signs of frustration and he was possibly a little lucky to remain on the pitch, lashing out after a series of feisty challenges littered the opening stages of the second half. Grimshaw had a good, competent game in goal before he left the pitch on a stretcher after Blackburn's forward had crudely, and unnecessarily, left his foot in as they both rushed towards the ball. Albinson took over where his team mate left off as City eventually cruised to the result.
It was a performance built on determination and grit and City's superior quality eventually telling when it mattered. Wilcox would have enjoyed it. Games like this define teams, and they're just as important to their development as any free-flowing goal fest. A real test of character. The u16s played as well on the next pitch along (their games always mirror those of the u18s) running out 4-1 victors, according to a certain majestic little Spanish attacker Brahim Diaz anyway who passed on the score to me as we were leaving. He scored too, apparently, and in the brief twenty minutes I saw he was a real threat as ever. He's still listed as a trialist as he waits for his international clearance, but he's an exceptional prospect. Likewise, the young Chilean forward and currenet trialist, Branco Provoste, started the game too ahead of Smith and Dele-Bashiru in midfield. England youth international Tom Dele-Bashiru scored a belter, firing in from the edge of the area and his international team mate Tyrese Campbell grabbed the other two. Campbell's a nightmare - an immensely powerful, tall and direct striker with thunderous, Ronaldo-esque pace. The scorer of 47 goals last season at youth level, no less. His first was a smart finish at the keeper's near post after being put through by Matt Smith, and his second was all of his own making, forcefully shrugging off one challenge and darting past another before slotting between the keepers legs. Impressive stuff, in an impressive performance by the team coached by ex-City forward Gareth Taylor. Overall, a satisfying day for City's travelling youth teams. It's been an encouraging start to the campaign for the u18s - they sit top of the league, with only one goal conceded and they'll look to extend that lead further as they take on Middlesbrough on Thursday.