County continued their impressive unbeaten start to pre-season with a 2-0 win against Manchester City U21s this afternoon, thanks to goals from Antoni Sarcevic and Fraser Horsfall.
In an entertaining behind-closed-doors game played in glorious sunshine at Manchester City’s training complex, Sarcevic gave County an early lead with his firs of pre-season, before Horsfall’s first in County colours made sure of the victory late on, making it four wins out of five so far for the National League Champions.
Manager Dave Challinor rang the changes less than 24 hours on from that 5-0 win away at Chorley on Friday night, with an entirely different starting line-up named for our fifth pre-season fixture.
Ben Hinchliffe returned in-between the sticks, behind a back three of Horsfall, Mark Kitching and Joe Lewis, with the latter making his first appearance of pre-season after returning from injury.
Will Collar and Myles Hippolyte were the wing-backs, either side of a midfield of Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, Callum Camps and Sarcevic, whilst Paddy Madden partnered Kyle Wootton up top.
County, sporting their fluo yellow third-kit, certainly started the better of the two sides, Collar forcing the City ‘keeper into a save in just the second minute as a corner was punched clear to him on the edge of the area.
Dave Challinor’s side didn’t have to wait much longer to get the breakthrough however, as former City Academy midfielder Sarcevic struck in just the sixth minute. A cross from the right-hand side was nodded back across goal by Wootton for Lemonheigh-Evans who, with his back to goal, saw a spectacular overhead kick cleared off the line, but Sarce was there to hammer home the rebound.
County’s high press was causing City issues in the early exchanges, and Mark Kitching came close to doubling the lead, drilling a low shot just wide of upright from 20 yards out.
Hinchliffe was called into action for the first time just past the 15-minute mark, a shot from the edge of the area that took a deflection off Joe Lewis, but County’s #1 was down quickly to make the save.
Sarcevic came close to grabbing a second midway through the half, but could only direct a header into the arms of the goalkeeper following a great burst down the left-hand side by Myles Hippolyte.
Wootton and Madden continued to show promising signs of a partnership developing up front, with Kyle threading the ball through the legs of a defender for Paddy to run on to, but his first-time effort was too close to the ‘keeper.
All of a sudden Wootton was having an impact at both ends of the pitch, tracking all the way back to clear a shot off the line after a City attacker had managed to get around Hinchliffe.
At this point City were finishing the half strongly, breaking the offside trap and having a clear run on goal but Hinchliffe was out quickly, making himself big and managing to smother the shot from close range.
County did come so close to doubling their lead just before the half-time whistle, Madden floating a lovely ball over the top for Hippolyte to run on to before checking inside, and seeing a low shot deflect onto the post. From the resulting corner, Joe Lewis saw a downward header cleared off the line.
Half-Time: Manchester City U21s 0-1 County (Sarcevic, 6’)
Chances were at a premium for much of the second-half as the baking heat began to take its toll on both sets of players. City nearly forced a way through early in the half after latching on to a loose back-pass, but Horsfall got back well to make a crucial block.
County then had two strong penalty appeals waved away inside a couple of minutes, as both Wootton and Sarcevic looked to be tripped inside the area, but the referee was uninterested on both occasions.
Hinchliffe was again called into action with 15 minutes to go, getting down well to turn a deflected effort around the post, before County made sure of the win with just five minutes to go.
Myles Hippolyte’s corner from the left-hand side was almost turned in for an own goal, the City ‘keeper making a spectacular save down to his left, but Horsfall, who scored nine goals in League Two for Northampton last season, was in the right place to force home the rebound for his first in County colours.
Full-Time: Manchester City U21s 0-2 County (Sarcevic, 6’; Horsfall, 85’)
Team: Hinchliffe; Lewis; Horsfall; Kitching; Collar; Lemonheigh-Evans; Camps; Sarcevic; Hippolyte; Wootton; Madden.
Photographer: Mike Petch