This was fun. For all the money poured into the CFA, the vast array of extensively scouted talent and all the limitless technological innovations, it's days like these over at Middlesbrough's simple, but welcoming Rockliffe Hall training ground that serve best to define the wonderful work that's happening over in East Manchester. Two of City's very brightest academy teams, the u16s and u18s, put in two performances soaked in character, resilience and no little skill. And all this miles away from the comforts of their new multi-million pound home. It was wonderful to watch - the desire and commitment of both age groups to their footballing principles and education was relentless, unwavering in its belief and execution. Both went behind early on against the run of play, yet both produced stylish, emphatic second halves of football that Middlesbroughs teams simply couldn't handle to clinch comprehensive victories.
It was even more notable too given the ages of the players on display. The u18s named a young team - usual centre-halves Humphreys, Adarabioyo and Kigbu were all not involved, handing 16 year old first year scholar Joe Coveney the chance to make his first start of the season, with the u16s centre-back Joel Latibeaudiere making up the numbers on the bench. They were short elsewhere too, with Patching, Nmecha, Wood, Kongolo and Grimshaw all away on international duty, or seemingly with the EDS for Monday night's trip to Chelsea. It was still an impressive lineup despite the absentees, highlighting the frightening strength in depth City have at this level. Haug started between the sticks and Bullock, Coveney, Oliver and Duhaney made up the back four. In midfield, Jacob Davenport sat while Sadou Diallo and the u16 Tom Dele-Bashiru pushed forward. Isaac Buckley started as the lone striker and Javairo Dilrosun and Paolo Fernandes lined up either side of him.
|10. Tom Dele-Bashiru|
After the initial shock, a slip by Coveney gifted their forward a chance that he finished with aplomb, City took control. We were in front at half-time, Paolo Fernandes grabbing a deserved brace for a first half display blessed with magic. His first was sublime, pirouetting away from his marker before promptly walloping home into the roof of the net from just inside the area. The second a little more fortuitous, firing in the rebound from his own saved penalty penalty that Duhaney had brilliantly won, slaloming into the opposition box before being brought down. The second half was totally one-sided. Dilrosun grabbed the third, latching onto a long ball before slotting past the keeper and the fourth followed not long after. Jacob Davenport, far from the biggest player on the pitch, rose highest to head home a Callum Bullock corner, before Bullock picked up another assist, this time for Buckley who nipped in at the front post to divert another corner into the net for the fifth. The sixth and final goal came after brilliant work between Diallo and the late substitute, the 15 year old talent Jadon Sancho. Sancho twice turned his man inside out before laying off Diallo who fired across goal to tee up Faour with a tap in.
It was mightily impressive, and though they all excelled, this was undeniably a defiant and cohesive team effort. Bullock was strong at both left and right back, picking up two assist after switching sides with the increasingly assured Duhaney. Charlie Oliver, the most experienced of the back four , marshalled the defence well. Coveney, his initial slip aside, was a calm presence before he was replaced by the fifteen year old, Joel Latibeaudiere - another from the u16s who will seemingly have no problem stepping up at this level. A tall, elegant player with a clear intelligence and understanding of the game, it was a confident cameo. Defensively, Davenport was superb in midfield, frequently breaking up play and his goal was just rewards for a fine runout. Diallo and Dele-Bashiru dictated proceedings with their usual strength and technical ability, the latter seemingly already a natural at this level despite his tender years. Fernandes was delightful, a real gem. He repeatedly tore their left-back to pieces, scoring two before he was replaced by the equally mercurial Sancho. Dilrosun was an effective outlet on the left and Buckley scored, as he always seems to, as he ran himself into the ground. He's more effective out wide, i'd argue, but he was still involved repeatedly here.
|Middlesbrough's Rockliffe Hall Training Ground|
The u16s, not to be outdone, matched the u18s, grabbing four second half goals of their own to win 4-2. It didn't all go their way - they headed in 2-0 down at half time against a strong, efficient Middlesbrough outfit. Their heads could have dropped at any point, and it'd have been understandable too given the youth of their team, but a sensational display of attacking football in the second saw them complete a remarkable turnaround to claim the victory. All this despite missing several u16 regulars of their own. Hilton, Dele-Bashiru, Sancho, Foden, Latibeaudiere all weren't involved. Five u15s were - Bobby Duncan, Ellis Sims, Henri Ogunby, Nathaniel Ogbeta and Curtis Anderson. It's testament to their ability that they seamlessly stepped up at this level. They're building character within the walls of the CFA. Not just talented players and potential stars - there's personality too. These are polite, courteous and hard-working young men, coached and brought up the right way. Credit must go to their coaches, Gareth Taylor with the u16s and Jason Wilcox with the u18s. Both clearly excellent at what they do, they're instilling a belief and intelligence into these players that is rarely seen at this level. Big things beckon, and rightly so. This was a wonderful weekend for the CFA, one that epitomised all the good that is happening behind the scenes at the club. Next up, the EDS face Chelsea live on Sky Sports on Monday night at 5.15. Expect a few u18s regulars to be involved.
|U18s Lineup v Middlesbrough|