City come from behind to defend U18 PL title on the South Coast


Manchester City’s senior side may be on their way to winning the Premier League title, but their U18’s side claimed their second successive U18 Premier League title by beating Southampton 2-1 at St.Mary’s Stadium to complete an U18/U23 double.

Whilst Southampton finished on a marginally higher points tally and subsequently earned the right to host this game, the visitors came into this game as favourites due to their recent record at U18 level as well as the level of talent in their setup.

As such, it was no surprise when Portugal U19 International Carlos Borges caused the Saints some problems in the opening exchanges, leading to the ball breaking kindly for Taj Sodje who will feel he should have done better than to loft the ball onto the roof of the net.

However, academy success and Southampton seem to go hand in hand, and the red portion of the south coast has some starlets of their own including 16-year-old Kamari Doyle who gave an early warning sign to Josh McNamara in the City goal with a stinging effort.

The City stopper could not prevent Doyle a second time though, and the young attacker took the pass from Cameron Bragg in his stride before slotting home cooly. McNamara got a hand on the effort, but could only parry it into the corner and the home fans erupted to the jubilant celebrations of Southampton’s young guns.

The goal itself was one that would have made senior manager Ralph Hassenhuttl proud, as it came from an intense press on a City side trying to play out from the back causing a turnover in possession. Such an instance was one that caused Manchester City a whole host of problems in the first quarter of the game.

However, it was as the game entered its second quarter that City hit back, with Taj Sodje amending his earlier miss with a tap in created by a counter-attack orchestrated by Adedire Mebude, who took the ball to the by-line and dragged the ball back to his teammate in a scenario that he simply could not miss.

Following the equaliser, the Citizens looked more dangerous by the second on the counterattack, with the front three of Mebude, Sodje and Borges all causing havoc amongst the Saints backline.

It was the former who was on target for City’s second, as Nigerian born Scotsman Adedire Mebude added a goal to his earlier assist, turning Leon Pambou inside out before drilling home low.

After the break, it was the Saints who looked to hit on the break with the likes of Milan Diamond Edwards and substitute Jimmy Jay Morgan. After a slashed clearance, the ball broke to Edwards who was inches away from poking home.

Morgan proved to be a thorn in the side of Manchester City’s defence, with the substitute looking the most likely to create the opening for an equaliser.

Whilst Southampton were attaining more progressive territory, City looked to catch the hosts off guard with a number of dangerous counter attacks, once again using the pace of their front three to their advantage in transition.

As the game entered its closing stages, City showed the qualities reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s senior side in seeing the game out, becoming more pragmatic and keeping comfortable possession to frustrate their opponents.

The Saints huffed and puffed, but ultimately Manchester City exemplified the class that oozes through every team that dons the jersey, in any category or age group.

Manchester City retain their U18 Premier League crown and maintain their status as the dominant force in all of academy football.

Southampton will rue what could have been after the ideal start in this encounter, but Carl Martin and co. will be more than satisfied with the colossal improvement of the age group, and will also undoubtedly receive recognition for the talents such as Ballard, Doyle, Pearce and Payne that have emerged.

First team manager Ralph Hassenhuttl delivered a speech to the players after the game, conveying the message of ‘immense pride’ throughout the club for the efforts of the squad.

Many of these players will be hoping to receive contract extensions and new deals as a result of their efforts this season, and some will progress into the B team/U23 setups or may even receive a loan for experience. However, the cut-throat nature of academy football dictates that a percentage of these players will almost certainly be let go regardless, once again emphasizing how players are surplus to requirements. But for now, both squads will relish in their teams’ successes for the season gone and will enjoy a well-earned break before taking the next step in their young careers, wherever it may be.

13,035 people were at St.Mary’s to witness the occasion, making the event itself a roaring success and highlighting the opportunity there for exposure of young academy talents at these stadiums.

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