D’Mani Mellor lifts the mood with two goals as Manchester United U23s impress against West Ham – Steven Railston

Manchester United’s U23s were challenged with lifting the mood on Saturday afternoon at Leigh Sports Village.

Ralf Rangnick’s side crashed out of the FA Cup to Middlesbrough on Friday and so it was down to Neil Wood to improve spirits around the club when United’s U23s welcomed West Ham. Hannibal Mejbri won U23 Player of the Season last term and he was at Old Trafford to watch that defeat. Rangnick has confirmed Hannibal will now play with United’s first team after his promising performances.

Shola Shoretire might have felt aggrieved not to have been named in the squad on Friday but he reacted in perfect fashion.

It could be argued that experience on the bench in a fourth tie FA Cup fixture would have done Shoretire the world of good, but not being called up on Friday was the U23s gain as the forward started versus West Ham and made a brilliant start to the game.

Shoretire has been training with United’s first team and the excitement around the youngster is not misplaced. Shoretire is the youngest player to appear for the club in European competition and he celebrated his 18th birthday on Monday.

While it was Shoretire’s birthday earlier in the week, he was the one that was actually providing gifts by the end of it.

Shoretire was within his own half when having the vision to identify the potential of D’Mani Mellor’s run. While that alone was impressive, the execution of the pass was outstanding. The pass from Shoretire was perfectly weighted and it gave Mellor the opportunity to fire United into the lead. Mellor obliged to score his third goal in two games since he returned from his loan.

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Mellor, 21, was recalled from his Salford loan and then his proposed temporary switch to Crawley Town on January transfer deadline day collapsed. Mellor’s maturity is a weapon at this level and his intelligence on the pitch gives him an advantage. It’s a shame his loan to Crawley collapsed. He’s set to continue with United’s U23s this term but he could be scoring at a higher level.

Mellor’s goal gave United the lead over West Ham that they deserved. The London club are challenging for the Premier League 2 this season and yet they looked grossly inferior to United across the opening 20 minutes. The Reds were in full control.

United crucially failed to sustain that intensity. The early warning signs were there when Ondrej Mastny was called into action and the youngster rose to emphatically answer every question West Ham could pose. The 19-year-old protected United’s advantage.

Yet Mastny was helpless when West Ham’s Dan Chesters placed the ball into the top of the right corner just within 25 minutes. David de Gea wouldn’t have stopped it. That was just Chesters’ second goal of the campaign, which was hard to believe, such was the finish.

West Ham then began to ascend and United were forced to defend. Will Fish looked more than comfortable – the centre-back has recently returned from his loan at Stockport County – alongside Bjorn Hardley. Alvaro Fernandez was typically adventurous going forward from left-back and Charlie Wellens continues to learn his craft at full-back (Wellens has converted from midfield).

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It was all square at the break and the rain began to pour down as United came out for the second half. That didn’t matter. United would be dancing in the rain minutes later. Wellens is such a threat from full-back because of his brilliant range of passing and his lofted ball forward was enough for Mellor to gamble on. Mellor rolled the dice against the defender and beat the odds.

Mellor beat his man to the ball and fired home his second of the game. As mentioned, that was his fourth in just two matches. He’s really enjoying his football back at United. The Reds’ youngsters celebrated in the corner and rallied again to win the game.

This was a performance to be celebrated. United were brave in possession, they attacked with purpose and defended with great intensity. West Ham are pushing for the title and yet United found the edge to win the three points. Connor Stanley made it 3-1 in the dying embers to put the result beyond doubt. Martin Svidersky and Charlie Savage also deserve great praise for their work.

United’s U23s have enjoyed a fine campaign this season and they need just seven points from their next six league games to beat last term’s point total despite having a significantly younger squad this time around, compared to last year.

Positivity can be found in hope and there was plenty of that at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday.

It was perhaps United’s U23s’ best performance of the season.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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