Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester United
Even beside the three points, there were so many positives to take out of this game for United. Darren Fletcher looked closer than ever to competing for first team action. Saidy Janko, now that he’s nearing full fitness, is beginning to look a real prospect. And Wilfred Zaha delivered a masterclass of wing play that surely can’t fail to herald a crack at the senior team sooner rather than later. The scoreline flattered Blackburn, who currently sit at the bottom of the U21 Premier League, and, had United opened their account earlier than the middle of the second half, this might have given a serious boost to the Reds’ modest goal difference.
With a number of players going out on loan recently, there was a need for a re-shuffle of the side: Wilson moved into Will Keane’s lone striker role, while Charni stepped back to fill in for his brother Michael in central defence, allowing Fabio to take up an unfamiliar central midfield role, while Janko took up a more advanced position on the right. Although Sam Johnstone was forced to make a fine save from Slew after ten minutes, United gradually attained a dominance in the first half that they held onto for the rest of the game, with Fletcher taking a firm grip of the midfield and Zaha increasingly rampant on the left.
The first half became a story of missed chances and wayward final balls in front of the Blackburn goal. After 24 minutes, the energetic Rothwell intercepted a throw out from Urwin to set up a dangerous move that ultimately came to nothing. Soon after Zaha cut inside but saw his shot go wide of the keeper’s right post and, seconds later, Wilson failed to control a defence-splitting through ball from Fletcher that would have left him with only the keeper to beat. Later in the first half Zaha had a shot smothered by the keeper and Janko had an effort deflected wide. In first half stoppage time, Wilson was fed by Zaha but found the keeper in the way.
It was a similar story in the second half. Zaha grazed the near post after mesmerising the Blackburn defenders and, after sixty-five minutes, he struck a sweet volley straight at the keeper. Less than two minutes later, United were in the lead and the scorer was predictable, Zaha picking up Fabio’s simple pass and striking low into the net. Fletcher found himself in a similar position soon after but overran the ball and the keeper smothered.
When Zaha was fouled on the edge of the area on 75 minutes, James Wilson stepped up and scored a goal horribly reminiscent of the one United conceded at Spurs yesterday, the compliant defensive wall jumping over a free kick that trundled faithfully inside the far post.
By this point it was merely a matter of how many. Although it would have been pleasing to see the Reds go on to rack up a cricket score, the three points will do just fine, especially given the significant number of other pluses that ran through this performance.