A magnificent first-half free-kick from West Ham United Under-23 attacker Marcus Browne was enough to see off Simon Davies’ Manchester City Under-23s for Terry Westley’s men in the Premier League 2 Division One at the City Football Academy on Thursday evening.
The Young Hammers, who have now completed the league double over both City and their neighbours Manchester United in the PL2, seized the advantage on 34 minutes through skipper Browne leading by example.
The hosts threatened to get back into the game after this and the main reason they didn’t was a Man of the Match display from visiting goalkeeper Nathan Trott, regularly keeping out the likes of Phil Foden and Lukas Nmecha in attack for the Citizens.
A second away win on the spin, the other coming against fourth-placed Liverpool, saw the East Londoners climb a place up to seventh and get their top-four hopes back on track, while it was the Manchester side that they leapfrogged as they fell to eighth.
From the start at the Sky Blues’ impressive Academy Stadium, home manager Davies decided on five changes to his starting Xl in the wake of his team’s thrilling most recent triumph over Everton.
Departing from the side were Edward Francis, Rabbi Matondo, Demeaco Duhaney, suspended Joel Latibeaudiere and Luke Bolton, to be replaced by Matthew Smith, Iker Pozo, bright starlet Tom Dele-Bashiru, Lorenzo Gonzalez, and Spaniard Ian Poveda.
Meanwhile, away boss Westley made zero alterations to his Xl from the home league defeat to Chelsea at the Chigwell Construction Stadium, nearly two months ago.
The unchanged side read Nathan Trott in goal, a back four of Ben Johnson, Josh Pask, Tunji Akinola and Vashon Neufville, further forward stood midfielders Conor Coventry and Grady Diangana, either side of them exciting wingers Nathan Holland and Domingos Quina with captain Marcus Browne supporting new signing Oladapo Afolayan up-front.
Right from the very off in a sunny evening in Manchester, the visitors were the better side, getting off to a very quick start indeed and so very nearly grabbing an early lead.
With a mere two minutes on the clock, a poor clearance from Arijanet Muric gifted the Manchester-born Holland with a wonderful opportunity, stepping inside and getting a shot off.
The ball agonisingly struck the post and flew away from danger, while Trott did have some early work to do at the opposite end, the young Hammers continued to create chances.
Holland, once again, was the spearhead as an entertaining first period progressed, this time setting up ex-Solihull Moors star Afolayan for a header from close-range.
Muric was able to avenge his early error by getting down to make a stunning save, moments later, it would take the block of the Montenegro U21 star and a City defender to deny Holland.
The visitors’ strong defensive display proved a backbone for their threatening counter-attacks throughout, the few times when the hosts did breach it, however, they failed to find the target with regularity, case in example Foden’s huge miss shortly before the goal.
When the Irons did take the lead 10 from the break, no one could say it wasn’t coming with both scorer Browne and the ever-present Holland going close in the build-up.
However, it took a burst forward from defender Akinola to win a set-piece on the edge of the penalty area, Browne limbering up to take it and not letting anybody else get a look in.
For good reason too as the No10 stepped up and struck a powerful effort in off the stanchion of the goal, giving Muric no chance whatsoever, a firecracker that the playmaker later described as being up there with one of his best goals.
There could be little time for celebrations for Wesley’s men, though they were forced into some serious defending before half-time with going a goal behind riling the Sky Blues.
Both attackers Gonzalez and Poveda were able to get in behind the defence and fire at Trott, the England U20 shot-stopper being more than equal to the two efforts to keep them from breaching the goal-line with glorious saves.
It had been a somewhat end-to-end first period, but on reflection, the Claret & Blue starlets marginally deserved their lead for their efforts, although the late City offensive was a sign of things to come.
Davies’ men could have easily lead the match within ten minutes, Poveda in the thick of the action once more to pass up a once-in-a-lifetime chance from three yards out and then Nmecha having a penalty appeal turned down after Neufville’s tackle.
The only reply from Westley’s boys at this stage was Holland striking the side-netting, while Nmecha, a European U19 Championship winner last summer with England, forced another Trott stop from a free-kick.
As the clock ticked down, it was looking more and more likely that Trott wasn’t going to be beaten by one of one the best young attacks in the country, but he also had his defenders to thank for that.
Johnson, who has recently signed his first professional contract, denied a certain goal with an incredible last-ditch tackle on 65, whereas, the introduction of substitute Matondo brought a fresh threat to that goal.
His contribution included almost winning a penalty and testing out Trott, though he could never quite muster up enough to beat the in-form keeper, who eventually held out for the shutout.
The Irons defence were expecting waves of late City attack, but it would be them with the best of the chances inside the closing ten minutes, Holland and Sead Haksabanovic off the bench, not finding the target from promising positions.
Just when it looked like the contest was fading out for an away victory, Trott had one last eye-catching stop to make to deny Nmecha, the striker who wouldn’t have believed is luck at times.
A goalmouth scramble from a corner found its way to Smith, his cross falling to the forward to shift the ball goalward, and the rest is history, culminating in yet another Trott save.
It was fitting that the game’s last action involved the standout performer of it on the ground he had helped the Three Lions U20s to defeat Portugal during the International break, with that, the final whistle had been blown on a thrilling evening of youth football.
The Citizens will have just over a week to recoup on the end of their three-match winning streak before they entertain fierce rivals United next Friday night, the league’s bottom-placed team.
Whereas, the young Hammers are back in action even earlier than that to play in yet another re-arranged fixture, one that was called off in December as opposed to March, travelling to Everton with confidence.