BRIGHT FUTURE

United youngsters knocked on the days, says Solskjaer

The Norwegian spared his senior players the 6,000-mile round-trip to Kazakhstan, took a squad packed with academy graduates and chose an XI with an average age of 22 years and 26 days - the youngest fielded in European competition.

In Summary

• They took the lead through Jesse Lingard’s deflected strike in the 10th minute before Astana overturned the deficit in seven second-half minutes.

• Lingard, the eldest of the outfield players at 26 and captain for the night, fired United ahead and ended a goal drought dating back to January. 

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and players applaud fans after their Europa League loss to Astana
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and players applaud fans after their Europa League loss to Astana
Image: /REUTERS

Some of Manchester United’s youngsters who played in the 2-1 defeat at Astana are ‘knocking on the door’ of the first team, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The Norwegian spared his senior players the 6,000-mile round-trip to Kazakhstan, took a squad packed with academy graduates and chose an XI with an average age of 22 years and 26 days - the youngest fielded in European competition.

They took the lead through Jesse Lingard’s deflected strike in the 10th minute before Astana overturned the deficit in seven second-half minutes.

Solskjaer, whose side had already qualified for the last 32, told MUTV: “I think some of these might benefit from going out on loan. Of course, they need men’s football and it was a first taste of it for some of them. Some of them are also knocking on the door for us.”

The United boss praised right-back Ethan Laird, midfielder Dylan Levitt and centre-back Di’Shon Bernard, who made their full debuts, although it was the latter’s own goal that gave Astana the lead.

He added: “You can see the way we dominated midfield, with Jimmy Garner and Dylan playing together. Di’Shon was composed, Ethan was marauding down the right-hand side, particularly in the first half. Some of these have done themselves a good favour.”

Lingard, the eldest of the outfield players at 26 and captain for the night, fired United ahead and ended a goal drought dating back to January. Tahith Chong should have made it 2-0 after the break, but astonishingly scooped over from six yards with an empty net in front of him. Seconds later United conceded their first goal of the group stage when Dmitriy Shomko’s deflected drive beat the reach of Lee Grant.

The six-time Kazakh champions delivered another blow shortly afterwards when Antonio Rukavina’s cross went in off the body of Bernard.

United responded positively with Eric producing two fantastic saves to deny Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood, but they failed to prevent the Kazakh champions from recording their first group win of the season.

The Premier League side host Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in their final match on 12 December. Chong missed chance pivotal

The match was played on a 4G pitch and under the roof of the Astana Arena, to protect the players from temperatures of -15 in the Kazakh capital. United lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against the side at the bottom of Group L but one which earlier in the month secured their sixth successive Kazakh title.

Perhaps those factors influenced Astana’s lackadaisical first-half display as United’s kids enjoyed an easy ride. Lingard was the best attacker on the pitch during that period, and aside from his goal he hit a 20-yard shot that flew a couple of yards wide followed by another that looped narrowly over Eric’s bar.

Astana improved markedly after the break as they began to exert more pressure, but Chong will rue not subduing them once more with one of the misses of the competition. That seemed to spark the Kazakh side into life and they seized the initiative with two quick goals.

Ironically, United enjoyed their best attacking spell of the match after going behind, with Gomes’ stunning free-kick clawed away by Eric, who then stuck out an arm to block Greenwood’s effort.

Solskjaer said: “The group have travelled together and played together — it’s a very, very tight-knit group. It’s been excellent - the training yesterday, the lead-up to the game, the travel and everything. I’m just sorry they couldn’t go away from here with the win, because I thought they deserved to win the game.”