Reiss Nelson scored on his return from injury for the u23s on Saturday, in another poor day for the academy sides on an overall basis.
Nelson picked up a hamstring problem a few weeks ago, ruling him out of the final game before the international break. He got a chance to return to fitness against the Manchester United u23s, however, and made good use of it to score.
The 20-year-old fired in an excellent free-kick from the edge of the area to make it 1-1 in the first half. He’s been in good form whenever he’s had the chance to get on the pitch recently, and this is just another example.
Hopefully, he’ll play for the first team in the Europa League in midweek.
On the other hand, this was not a good day for the academy at all. Earlier on, the u18s lost 5-0 to Brighton, despite putting out a talented side.
Charlie Patino, Catalin Cirjan, Omari Hutchinson, Marcelo Flores, Kido Taylor-Hart and Khayon Edwards all started, a group of top young talents in midfield and attack. To lose so badly without scoring is a real surprise.
After that, the club named a strong u23 side against Manchester United including Nelson, but also Joe Willock, Emile Smith Rowe, William Saliba and even overage defender Cedric Soares (you can have up to three overage players in an u23 side in the PL2).
Yet they made a bad start, going behind 1-0 in the first three minutes. Nelson equalised, but United took a 3-1 lead in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
The team finally woke up after that, with Folarin Balogun scoring twice to level the scores again, before a red card to Alex Kirk left them with 10 men for the final 13 minutes.
Fortunately, they held on for a draw, but it’s another disappointing result in the circumstances.
Not just a bad day for Bould’s side
The fact is that we’re closing in on 11 months since the u23s last won a league game. They have zero PL2 wins in 2020, although they do have two in the EFL Trophy and two in the PL International Cup.
There are mitigating circumstances. The squad available has been very inconsistent, with players coming and going on loans, picking up injuries, getting promotions to the first team, and so on.
If Steve Bould had the same 15 or so players available all year, I’m certain they would have won a few more games. But as a coach, you sometimes you have to work with what you have, and this is a rather unprecendented run of bad form.
Bould couldn’t complain about the players he had available against United. Smith Rowe, Willock, Nelson and Saliba are the kind of young players you love to have as an u23 coach, not to mention Balogun, Cottrell and Cedric. Yet they only just scraped a draw.
Things need to improve in the coming months, or the club need to look at Bould’s position.