Manchester United’s Under-21 began their 2023/24 EFL Trophy campaign with a 5-3 penalties win over Stockport County, after drawing 1-1 in regular time.
Following a slow first half at Edgeley Park, the Red Devils took command after the break and grabbed the decisive goal via Joe Hugill in the 64th minute, in what was a physical encounter between the underage side and the League Two outfit.
The first period produced just seven shots, the best of which came via Josh Popoola in the early stages. The winger controlled a long ball ahead of United’s James Nolan and shot at goal, but it was saved by Elyh Harrison, while Popoola knocked the follow-up off target, with the attacker off balance when he shot.
But that was the last opportunity for the hosts in the first period, with United creating the better chances as the half moved on. Twice Mateo Mejia shot at goal, but neither effort seriously tested Jordan Smith in the home net. In injury-time, Shola Shoretire fired a free-kick just over, to round off a poor opening 45 minutes.
Yet the second period started in a more entertaining manner, with Hugill heading over after a Mejia cross, before Max Odyedele curled one off target from outside the area. United were in the ascendancy at this point, and found the breakthrough in the 63rd minute.
The recently introduced Ethan Williams created it when he latched onto a ball, drove into the box and then was deemed to have been clipped by Stockport’s Akil Wright. It was Hugill who stepped up and stroked his shot on target, but Smith managed to get a big hand to the ball, before it rolled out to the the United striker to slot home and hand Travis Binnion’s youngsters the lead.
Williams was a real threat after his introduction, and soon after the winger twisted and turned inside the box, and thrashed an effort towards goal, which smashed off the crossbar. In the 76th minute, Stockport were reduced to 10 men after Ryan Croasdale was shown a second booking for a strong lunge on Shola Shoretire.
The man advantage should have meant United controlled possession with ease, yet County’s search for an equaliser was causing the visitors problems. It did, however, offer United counter-attacking opportunities, with Charlie McNeill and Ethan Wheatley both spurning chances after penetrative runs from Shoretire.
Those misses came back to haunt United as, in the 12th minute of injury-time, Harrison was judged to have clattered into a Stockport player in the box, resulting in a second penalty of the match, which was converted by Tanto Olaofe in the dying embers.
Olaofe did go close minutes later, but his shot from distance flew wide and meant it finished 1-1 after 90 minutes, forcing a shoot-out.
United converted all five from McNeill, Shoretire, Nolan, Williams and Ethan Wheatley, with Rydel missing the only penalty for Stockport, meaning the Red Devils won 5-3 in the shoot-out, and opened the EFL Cup campaign with two points.
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