Jack Stretton was the hero on Saturday afternoon as his brace inspired Derby County Under-18s to an important 2-1 victory away at Manchester United Under-18s.
The Scotland Under-19 international’s goals came either side of Charlie Wellens’ first-half equaliser in a tightly contested affair. The Rams’ rear guard, led by Eiran Cashin, were equally as brilliant in the way that they protected the one-goal lead as the hosts pressed for a share of the points in the closing stages.
Derby looked to control the game from the first minute as they realised that keeping the ball on the floor in the swirling winds was the best method. Their slick passing play was quickly rewarded as the deadlock was broken with just over 10 minutes on the clock through their number nine.
A well-constructed move saw Tyree Wilson pick the ball up 35 yards from goal and craft an inch-perfect through ball to Stretton who slammed his finish beyond the goalkeeper with his left foot.
As the weather continued to deceive the players, Justin Walker’s side pushed for a second and it was the scorer of the first who came closest, but his low drive flew just past the far post. It looked as though the visitors would go into the break with the lead but they were pegged back against the run of play with moments left of the first period.
The equaliser came as a result of a swift counter attack where the home side were able to exploit a numerical advantage in the opposing penalty area. Ultimately, Ayodeji Sotona pulled the ball across the box towards Wellens who made no mistake to bring his team back into the match.
That goal seemed to motivate the Red Devils as they came out stronger after the break but just as they had done before half time, they were hit by a devastating counter attack. The ball was played down the left wing where Tyree Wilson was able to accelerate away from his marker before putting the goal on a plate for Stretton who would have struggled to miss in front of the empty net.
It was nothing less than the Rams had deserved and epitomised just how clinical they have been with their opportunities recently. With them taking back the lead, it meant the hosts had to push for another equaliser but as chances came and went, it looked as though Derby would hold on for an important victory.
Bradley Foster was called into action on a few occasions and did extremely well to keep his side’s noses in front especially with the flight of the ball becoming almost impossible to judge.
Despite being under pressure for much of the second half, it was actually the Rams who had the best chance to score the game’s fourth goal but substitute Marko Borkovic was unable to beat Ondrej Mastny just moments after coming on for Will Grewal-Pollard.
In the end, Derby’s backline was just far too strong for a United side who were repeatedly denied by well-timed tackles and vital clearances from the opposing defenders. The result keeps pressure on the sides above as Walker and his players host Stoke next weekend in what is a massive game.
WHAT’S TO COME…
As mentioned, it is the Potters who make the trip to Moor Farm Training Centre next weekend in a fixture that sees the Premier League – North’s fourth and fifth-placed sides lock horns.
The visitors will go into the match just a point ahead of the Rams in the table as both sides look to pressure the two Merseyside teams in second and third. Stoke ensured that they kept Derby at arm’s length with a 2-1 win against West Brom on Saturday where they left it late to claim the points.
They also waited to grab the winner in the last 10 minutes when the two sides met earlier in the season as Pat Jarrett handed the Potters an important win against the Champions back in September.
THE NEXT FIVE…
Stoke City (H) – Saturday 29th February (kick-off: 11am)
FC Salzburg (A) – Wednesday 4th March (kick-off: 3pm)
Wolverhampton Wanderers (A) – Saturday 7th March (kick-off: 11am)
Blackburn Rovers (H) – Saturday 14th March (kick-off: 12:30am)
Sunderland (H) Saturday 21st March (kick-off: 1pm)
Words by Ed Mackey.