And to think, I nearly watched the first team instead… this was magnificent. The u18s more than justified the decision to make the trip to the CFA, comprehensively outplaying the midlanders with a phenomenal display of attacking football. It was scintillating from the off, and Derby simply couldn’t handle the drive, energy, pace and sheer skill of the forward line of Dilrosun, Buckley, Fernandes and Brahim. A whole host of chances were created and this could have easily ended up double figures as City returned to the top of league on goal difference. It didn’t take long for City to break the deadlock, Davenport picking out Buckley over the top who raced onto the lofted through ball before guiding the ball over the onrushing keeper. The second came barely ten minutes later, Joe Coveney rising highest to head home a Brahim corner, and Buckley had his second, and City’s third, with half hour on the clock. Stationed at right back for the day, Marcus Wood linked well with Tom Dele-Bashiru before whipping in a delightful cross that Buckley reached before the keeper for an easy finish. The fourth was yet another Joe Coveney strike, firing home the rebound after a mazy Brahim run and shot was blocked into the path of the centre-back.
It was five before half-time, this time the goal coming from the left-hand side as Dilrosun, a thorn in Derby’s side all afternoon, breezed past his marker before drilling home from twenty yards with a thunderbolt of a strike. The whistle went for half-time as the referee momentarily put Derby out of their misery, yet little changed after the interval with City immediately prompting and probing from the kick off. Eventually the sixth came and it was Buckley again, grabbing a hugely deserved hat-trick after Dilrosun was freed down the left after a great cross-field run by Brahim. The dutch winger looked up and squared the ball across for Buckley to fire into the roof of the net. Simple, yet devastatingly effective. Derby, to their credit, kept their heads up throughout, and they pulled one back as Blackshaw was caught a little far too up the field, perhaps understandably given City’s relatively trouble free afternoon, and City were made to pay as they broke down the right and played into the middle for an easy finish. The six goal margin was restored not long after, and it came from a piece of individual brilliance goal. Paolo Fernandes, outstanding throughout, picked up the ball, sumptuously left his defender for dead and ran straight towards goal before finishing coolly. Majestic. Derby pulled yet another back, but it felt irrelevant as eventually it finished 7-2.
Individually they were all good, some outstanding, but this felt notable for many reasons. It was a young team, vastly changed from the previous game, and it felt like something of a coming of age for many – Brahim in particular. The sixteen Spanish maestro has found settling into life in the u18s a little tough so far, but here he was simply sensational, repeatedly picking the ball up at the peak of the midfield diamond before spinning away, darting straight at the defence and skipping past challenges at ease. The Messi comparisons suddenly made sense. How he didn’t score was beyond me, hitting the bar, having several shots blocked and nearly scoring a magical first time volleyed lob after connecting with a long ball over the top. Fernandes over on the right was equally brilliant, Dilrosun too – both wide men had the beating of their fullbacks all day long and the goal they each picked up was hugely deserved. Buckley was excellent, terrorising the Derby back-line with countless perfectly timed runs, utilising his lightning pace and quick feet to terrific effect. He deserves a call up internationally, and surely it’s just a matter of time. Dele-Bashiru was everywhere. The u16 is a monster in this form – all action, power and skill. He made countless challenges in midfield and drove forward repeatedly. Davenport alongside him, too, was his usually precise self, starting attacks from deep with ease.
The centre-back pairing of Latibeaudiere and Coveney, in truth, had little to do in a game that was very much about those playing ahead of them, but they were good when called upon. The former is still only fifteen, and its remarkable considering the composure he exudes. Both him and Coveney strolled through the game, never really getting out of second gear, and the brace for Coveney was just rewards for a competent, mature display. With Duhaney and Bullock both sat out ahead of the u19s UYL game on Tuesday, Marcus Wood stepped in at right back and he did well. Strong in the tackle and consistently on the front foot, he claimed an assist with a delightfully whipped cross from the right, with his weaker foot nonetheless. Blackshaw too provided energy down the left and Haug had no chance with either goal in a game that he was largely a spectator. There was a debut at this level for Matt Smith, the u16s midfielder, and he slotted in seamlessly, as did Luke Bolton, his fellow u16 teammate, as City played the game out in the final moments. Joe Hardy had half hour and nearly had a goal for his efforts too, guiding an effort wide with his first touch. All in all, this was a wonderful day, and it only served to highlight the strength in depth City have at this level. Diallo, Nmecha, Patching, Adarabioyo, Oliver, Kigbu and others all sat out ahead of the Uefa Youth League game on Tuesday, yet the transition was seamless. There’s talent in abundance coming through behind them and given the slight dip in form recently, a performance of this magnitude was long overdue and highly welcome. Next up, Tuesday, as the u19s play Borussia Monchengladbach.