Saturday 24 March 2018

Young stunner keeps United on course for City showdown

Stoke City 0 Man United 2

Manchester United's Ashley Young celebrates his goal against Stoke. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Ashley Young celebrates his goal against Stoke. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Ashley Young

Mark Ogden

In a season when an inability to stay on his feet has sullied his reputation, Ashley Young delivered an emphatic response to his critics by putting his right foot to spectacular use as Manchester United defeated Stoke to progress to the League Cup semi-finals.

Young, condemned more than once in recent months for alleged 'diving,' defended himself last week against the accusations, insisting referees had the power to take action when required.

But against Stoke, in a game which was halted by almost 10 first-half minutes as a result of a prolonged hail storm, the England winger did his talking on the pitch with a stunning second-half goal and assist for Patrice Evra's 78th-minute goal.

United lacked inspiration for much of the game, toiling away against Mark Hughes' team, but Young's goal sprinkled stardust among the hail when he ended his 19-month drought with a fearsome 20-yard strike.

The relief at ending his barren run, and perhaps silencing those supporters who have turned against him this season, was evident when Young jumped the sponsorship hoardings to celebrate with the fans. Referee Mark Clattenburg booked him.

Although the freakish weather conditions prompted Clattenburg to suspend the game midway through the first half, both teams had battled against the wind, hail and rain from the kick-off. If the old joke of Lionel Messi not being able to perform on a wet December night at Stoke were to be true, this was certainly the occasion to put the theory to the test.

Flags on the roof of the Novus Stand were buffeted relentlessly by the powerful gusts, while both teams were forced to take on an additional opponent in the crisp packets and shopping bags which swirled around the pitch before the heavens opened.

When the ball was on the ground, it moved freely and unrestricted, but the elements conspired against the home team whenever it was in the air, with the wind often blowing it back to where it had been kicked.

United failed to take advantage, however. With a strong wind at their backs, Moyes' team should have pressed Stoke back, but aside from a Young strike that hit the side-netting in the third minute and Anderson's weak effort 20 minutes later, the first half featured little in the way of attacking threat from the visitors.

Moyes, like Stoke manager Hughes, made several changes to his team, with Wayne Rooney failing to make the squad owing to an unspecified injury. Anderson was given his first start since the end of September, with Young also handed a rare opportunity to press his claims for greater involvement.

The lack of imagination from United was striking. Moyes' options may have been limited, with Shinji Kagawa deemed fit enough only to start on the substitutes' bench after a recent virus, but this was a team of Roundheads rather than Cavaliers.

When the 7,000 travelling supporters began to sing, "Come on David Moyes, play like Fergie's boys", it was more like a plea of desperation than a chant of encouragement.

There was an audible sigh of exasperation when Anderson scuffed another shot wide on 53 minutes.

The Brazilian was 20 yards from goal with time to pick his spot, but the result was a left-foot effort which ended up halfway between Thomas Sorensen's left-hand post and the corner flag.

Four minutes later, Moyes chose to go on the front foot by replacing Anderson with Javier Hernández, whose introduction eased the burden on Welbeck and gave United a more potent cutting edge.

The change brought an almost instant reward when Hernández played a crucial role in teeing up Young's stunning opener on 63 minutes. Young had received the ball from Cleverley in the middle of the Stoke half before laying it off to the Mexican, whose one-touch return was met with a finish that Bobby Charlton would have been proud of.

Young then capped his performance by teeing up Evra to curl in United's second and secure a place in the last four. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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