Ntcham 4mins, Celina 63mins
- Match reports
- 22 February 2014 14:37
- Posted by @porter_mcfc
City u18s returned to winning ways with a well-deserved victory over Blackburn Rovers under blue skies at Platt Lane.
Spring was in the air, which made a nice change from the wind, rain and stormy conditions the boy Blues have to contend with in the past few weeks.
The Blues were aiming to bounce back after a difficult week which saw a 13 game winning run come to an end with defeat to Bolton in the league, followed by a fifth round exit from the FA Youth Cup at the hands of a strong Fulham side.
With this league fixture sandwiched in between the midweek Youth Cup exertions and the upcoming UEFA Youth League clash with Atletico Madrid, Jason Wilcox shuffled his pack, and made three changes from the side that started against the Cottagers.
Pablo Maffeo was ruled out through injury, and was replaced by Nathaniel Oseni, with Ashley Smith-Brown moving to his more familiar position of right back. Denzeil Boadu came in for Kean Bryan in midfield, while Celina’s recent form from the bench earned him a second league start of the season. Jorge Intima was named among the substitutes.
City got off to the best possible start when Ntcham fired home within the first five minutes, converting the first real chance of the game. Celina was strong and fought his way forward into the box, before finding Brandon Barker on the left, who fed Jack Byrne. The Irish youth international showed great composure to lay it off for Ntcham, whose powerful shot from the edge of the area left the keeper with no chance.
Opportunities were few and far between in the first half hour. Thierry Ambrose had a shot deflected over the bar, while Rovers had their first chance after 16 minutes, but the ball looped high and wide.
Oseni was strong throughout the game to cut out any sniff of a Blackburn attack, and his crucial interception started an incisive City move, with Celina seizing the ball and cutting inside before curling the ball just past the post.
The Blues continued to have the best of possession but struggled to create clear cut chances to extend their lead. The Rovers keeper had to be alert to gather a low shot from Barker with two players lurking, while he could only push away Angelino’s effort and had to watch Smith-Brown’s shot drift just over the crossbar.
At the half time whistle, City led by the narrowest of margins, and while Ambrose had a chance to double the lead from kick off, Blackburn were level within minutes of the restart. Bossaerts gave away a free kick within shooting range, and while Billy O’Brien pulled off an excellent save to tip Jack Doyle’s effort onto the post, he could do nothing to stop Luke Acapo Kandi from tucking home the rebound.
Reinvigorated, City piled forward determined to restore their lead. Ntcham might have netted his second after a quick lay off from Boadu, while the Blues created sustained pressure from a number of corners and crosses but somehow a defender was always able to scramble clear.
Clearly, a moment of magic would be required to breach this defence once more and Celina provided it just after the hour mark – his beautiful strike from outside the box curled onto the inside of the post and then into the back of the net.
With one eye on Wednesday’s clash with Atletico, Angelino and Ambrose were replaced shortly afterwards, with Boadu heading upfront to take on the striking role he adopts when in an England shirt.
He was unlucky not to score when Barker found him lurking at the near post, while the defender put in a crunching tackle to block another effort from the London-born youngster.
There was a late flurry of chances for City to wrap up the three points – sub Yvan Wassi was inches away from connecting with a Barker cross after Blackburn failed to clear a corner and Boadu was denied by the keeper’s legs when one on one.
Smith-Brown was desperately unlucky not to make it three with virtually the last kick of the game, drawing a fantastic save from Callum Williams in the Blackburn net with a stinging shot across the face of goal.
In the end it was a well-deserved win for the boy Blues who enjoyed the better possession and chances, and City will be aiming to extend their lead at the top of the table when they travel to Everton on Saturday 1 March.