The Hatters’ opening group-stage match in the English Football League Trophy saw them draw in SK3 against an Under-21 side from Premier League Manchester United’s Academy, but miss out on a bonus point from the ensuing penalty shoot-out.
It was also a tale of two penalties during regular play, as United, a few minutes after the hour, had opened the scoring on the rebound from one that had been saved by Jordan Smith, before substitute Tanto Olaofe blasted in a late, late spot-kick in the 10th minute of time added on.
The tie also saw the Hatters’ skipper for the night, Ryan Croasdale, sent off for two bookable offences on his 150th County appearance, and five other home players, as well as United Academy Manager Travis Binnion, receive yellow cards.
The Hatters took to the field on a bright evening, and showed nine changes following their previous match, with only the two Ryans – Croasdale and Rydel – being retained from the League Two line-up that had started at Edgeley Park against Barrow three days earlier (although five more weekend starters were included among the substitutes).
A trio of County’s summer arrivals – namely, goalkeeper Smith, wing-back Josh Popoola and striker Billy Chadwick, signed during the close season from Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and Hull, respectively – were all handed their competitive debuts as Hatters.
County made a promising start – with Chadwick’s pressure forcing an early corner, and Croasdale’s chip finding Neill Byrne who headed beyond the right post, before two minutes were up. And, several minutes later, Ethan Pye emulated his central defensive partner by connecting with a Rydel delivery, which he glanced just wide.
Just ahead of the 10-minute mark, Popoola went closer still by bursting through on goal and rounding goalkeeper Elyh Harrison – only then to find himself at too tight an angle, and firing into the left side-netting.
The young visitors – wearing squad numbers at the outset in the range between 50 and 76 – fashioned their inaugural chance of note shortly before the quarter-hour through Colombian U-20 international, Mateo Mejía, whose low shot was smothered by Smith.
Subsequent first-half exchanges led to rather less action in either final third – although Byrne had to act quickly and decisively during added time in clearing a dangerous delivery from the right by Mejía, before Shola Shoretire blasted over a free-kick by way of the final touch prior to the break.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Manchester United U-21s 0.
Within half a dozen minutes of the resumption, United created the new half’s first opportunity, as Mejía crossed from the right to Joe Hugill, whose header cleared the crossbar. And, shortly afterwards, Maxi Oyedele fired into orbit at the Railway End, which housed the most concentrated and vocal cluster of visiting supporters.
Around the hour-mark, Rydel, fed by Connor Evans, drilled a low shot from outside the box that Harrison dived to gather up. But within moments, events at the other end would see the visitors take the lead, as Akil Wright – playing as a Hatter for the 50th time – brought down substitute Ethan Williams to concede a penalty.
Smith dived to his right to parry Hugill’s spot kick, but, alas, only as far as the penalty-taker who followed up to convert on the rebound and put the United youngsters ahead.
Ten minutes later, the lively Williams struck County’s bar from the edge of the area – before Croasdale, who had previously been booked on the stroke of half-time, was shown a second yellow, for a further challenge that left him requiring treatment, and dismissed.
In the course of 11 minutes added on at the end, United substitute Charlie McNeill fired narrowly shy of the right post – but, in the dying seconds, Ibou Touray, on as a late replacement for sponsors’ man of the match, Byrne, went to ground in the box under a challenge from Harrison, and Olaofe stepped up to fire home from 12 yards to level matters.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Olaofe (penalty), 90 + 10), Manchester United U-21s 1 (Hugill, 64).
The shoot-out that follows drawn ties at the group stage took place at the Railway End, where Rydel saw his spot-kick saved, and Ethan Wheatley converted the decider that gave the visitors a bonus point.
The Hatters will visit Salford and entertain Bolton during the autumn in their remaining group games of the competition.
PENALTIES: County 3 (Evans, Barry, Olaofe), Manchester United U-21s 5 (McNeill, Shoretire, Nolan, Williams, Wheatley).
Team (3-4-3): Smith; Wright, Byrne (Touray, 89), Pye; Popoola (Collar, 79), Johnson (Barry, 79), Croasdale (Capt.), Rydel; Evans, Chadwick (Mee, 65), Crankshaw (Olaofe, 79).
[Debuts for the following players, each with a unique SCAN [Stockport County Appearance Number]: Billy Chadwick (1453); Josh Popoola (1454); and Jordan Smith (1455).]
Unused Subs: Jones, Horsfall.
Booked: Johnson, Wright, Rydel, Mee, Byrne.
Sent Off: Croasdale.
Man of the Match: Byrne.
Attendance: 5,000 (1,331 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.