Report by John Edwards
Altrincham 2 Manchester United under-21s 0
Altrincham brought the curtain down on their pre-season programme in rousing style with two well-taken goals, a clean sheet and an excellent all-round team performance in a thoroughly-enjoyable friendly against Manchester United's emerging youngsters.
Fielding a starting line-up that could very well be the one that takes to the pitch for next Saturday's opening Vanarama National League fixture with Dagenham & Redbridge at The J.Davidson Stadium, Alty matched a talented United side stride for stride and pass for pass in a match that was always watchable and that grew in incident and excitement as the afternoon wore on.
There were few clear-cut scoring opportunities in an evenly-fought first half, but there was still plenty to admire about the way both sides probed for an opening, with Elliot Osborne impressing with his energy and distribution alongside the ever-lively Isaac Marriott in midfield and Justin Amaluzor causing United's defence a variety of problems with his pace and persistence on the right flank.
There may have been a touch of good fortune about the breakthrough when it came, early in the second half, but there could be no doubting the quality of the finish, as the ball broke kindly to Chris Conn-Clarke and he steadied himself before rifling a low left-foot half-volley past the United keeper from 12 yards out.
Alty were establishing a degree of control at this point, and it came as no surprise when they doubled their lead through the dangerous Amaluzor.
It was a goal centre-back Sonny Aljofree, who had a loan spell at Alty last season, will want to forget as an otherwise flawless performance was marred by an error that was pounced on by Amaluzor, who squeezed a shot between the keeper and the near post to make it 2-0.
United's under-21s, as might be expected from a team packed with talent, soon went on the front foot and, with gifted midfielder Isak Hansen-Arronsen pulling the strings, exerted growing pressure on the Alty back line.
With Alty's midfield and attack functioning so well for such long spells, it won't have bothered manager Phil Parkinson unduly to see his defence undergoing such thorough scrutiny, and the fact that they passed the test with flying colours and kept their goal intact can only have increased levels of optimism for the imminent start of another campaign.
On-loan keeper Ethan Ross again showed a willingness to come for crosses and, given the imposing nature of his 6ft 5in frame, it's difficult to imagine anyone stopping him reaching them.
Lewis Baines looks to have got the nod to partner skipper James Jones in central defence and Eddy Jones was always a shoo-in for the left-back berth, while, on the right, Lewis Banks had his best game so far in Alty colours, defending superbly, getting forward effectively down the flank and posing a real threat in the air at set-pieces or crosses played into the opposition box.
The serious stuff starts next Saturday, but Alty couldn't have wished for better than the momentum that has built up at the tail end of the pre-season programme, with a convincing performance and result at Macclesfield and now an even more formidable 90 minutes against United's top youngsters.