Friday 18 August 2017

Mourinho's sulk spoils big day for young guns

Manchester Utd 2 Crystal Palace 0

Wayne Rooney is replaced by Angel Gomes at Old Trafford yesterday. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Wayne Rooney is replaced by Angel Gomes at Old Trafford yesterday. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

James Ducker

It felt like a day when the old gave way to the new at Old Trafford as the youngest team Manchester United ever fielded in the Premier League made light of Jose Mourinho's pre-match concerns and Wayne Rooney bade an apparent farewell to supporters after what is likely to be his last competitive home game in the club's colours.

It was a day that started with one of four full debutants, Josh Harrop, putting United on course for an impressive win against Crystal Palace with a stunning strike that was the stuff of dreams, and ended with Angel Gomes replacing Rooney to become, at 16 years and 262 days, the club's youngest debutant since David Gaskell 61 years ago.

Manchester United's Angel Gomes (right) in action. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United's Angel Gomes (right) in action. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

It was a day to savour in many ways and certainly in the case of Paul Pogba, who scored the second, and Jesse Lingard, who was no less impressive, a timely lift ahead of the Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday that will determine the success of United's season.

What a shame, then, that Mourinho sought to take some of the shine off the occasion because he had the hump about criticism this week from television pundits.

The least a fledgling side deserved was for Mourinho to offer some praise for a mature, confident performance that belied their inexperience.

Instead, the United manager had vacated Old Trafford barely 20 minutes after the final whistle.

Manchester United's Timothy Fosu-Mensah in action with Crystal Palace's Patrick van Aanholt. Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Manchester United's Timothy Fosu-Mensah in action with Crystal Palace's Patrick van Aanholt. Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff

Most reporters were still watching the end of the United players' lap of honour when Mourinho arrived for his post-match press conference, asked the few bodies in the room if they had any questions and then made a sharp exit.

Sky Sports and the BBC never got the opportunity to speak to him and the best MUTV got was a cursory exchange.

Mourinho had his nose put out of joint by the criticism from Graeme Souness and Harry Redknapp on Sky Sports in the wake of last Wednesday's 0-0 draw at Southampton.

Souness' claims that Mourinho was giving his players excuses not to play well with his constant bleating about fatigue and United's frenetic schedule seem to have particularly irked the manager.

Crystal Palace's Luka Milivojevic in action with Manchester United's Phil Jones. Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff
Crystal Palace's Luka Milivojevic in action with Manchester United's Phil Jones. Photo: Reuters / Jason Cairnduff

Fault

Mourinho made a thinly veiled reference in his programme notes to the former Rangers and Liverpool manager, questioning how "certain pundits cannot understand why our players are tired" before listing the case for the defence and adding that it was "not my fault if their management career was very poor".

Whatever the extent of his frustration, though, it would not have taken much effort for Mourinho to hang around long enough to pass comment on a group of youngsters who did him proud.

The average age of United's side was just 22 years and 284 days. Remove 31-year-old Rooney from the equation and it dropped to 21.

Harrop, at 21, was the oldest of the four full debutants, with goalkeeper Joel Pereira, left-back Demetri Mitchell and midfielder Scott McTominay only 20.

Mourinho's fears that they would be overrun by Palace were dispelled in the space of four exhilarating minutes, the irony being that United played some of their best football for months.

Manchester United's Demetri Mitchell in action with Crystal Palace's Bakary Sako. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates
Manchester United's Demetri Mitchell in action with Crystal Palace's Bakary Sako. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Yates

Some players freeze in the spotlight, but from very early on it was clear Harrop was revelling in the moment, asking for the ball, drawing a foul from Joel Ward and then winning a corner with another confident run before his moment of magic.

An eye-catching hat-trick for United's U-23s in a 3-2 win against Spurs the previous Monday in front of Mourinho had convinced the manager to start him, but not even he could have imagined what would follow.

Released by a wonderful pass from Pogba with the outside of his right boot, Harrop drew Martin Kelly in then cut quickly inside the Palace defender before drilling an outrageous shot into the far corner. Old Trafford erupted.

The goal had an immediate calming effect, but it helped the youngsters that Pogba, back in the side following the death of his father, and Lingard took the game to Palace and it was that pair who combined for the second.

Ward failed to deal with Lingard's cross after a surging run and Pogba dispatched the loose ball before celebrating by pointing to the sky in honour of his father.

As for Rooney, he left to a standing ovation in the 88th minute and, as he applauded all corners before making way for Gomes, it felt very much like a changing of the guard.

It was all about the kids. And Mourinho, of course. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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