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Thursday 18th December 2014 ko 19.00

FA Youth Cup 3rd Round

MANCHESTER CITY 2 (Wood 26 Celina 90)

OXFORD UNITED 0

Att 476 at Academy Stadium, City Football Academy, Ethihad Complex, Manchester

Entry FREE

Teamsheet FREE

When Oxford’s United’s Youth team beat local rivals swindon town in the last round the assumption was that the away game would be played where Manchester City play most of their non-first XI games, Hyde FC’s Ewen Fields. That in itself would have been interesting, the club were Hyde UNITED when I went, and the stadium was predominantly red, both of which changed when City pumped in some of the oil billions. Now City have gone I wonder if the United and red will return?

It was as late as Tuesday evening when the decision was announced that the tie was being switched to Manchester City’s new £150M-£200M (depending on who you talk to!) football academy just a short walk on the sponsored footbridge over Alan Turing Way from the Etihad Stadium, itself being expanded.

The late switch threw City’s staff completely. Their website had the tie at Hyde until kick-off, and I was fortunate that an operative on the club switchboard was a prepared to find out the basics, where to park, cost, and ticketing arrangements. That proved to be straightforward, park in the orange car park, walk across the footbridge and collect a ticket from the media centre in the offices at the back of the main stand.

Except with all the building work the car park didn’t appear to be signposted, so I parked in the nearest car park I could and made do! Other than that I had enough time to grab a seat at back of the stand and contemplate my surroundings.

It’s easy to get lost in the facts and superlatives. A 7,000 capacity ground, including 5,000 seats, easily compliant for League One football and there’s even a jumbotron-style scoreboard! The stadium is at the corner of the development that includes 16 full-sized pitches (including a sky blue artificial one!) a half-pitch for the goalkeepers, three gyms, a suite including cryotherapy and ultrasound treatment facilities, and even a team hotel. I spotted Oxford United Communications Manager Chris Williams looking wistfully at the leather and chrome splashed offices before the game,

“It’s a good job I love our club,” he said, “I work in a broom cupboard!”

That feeling of “Them and us” was magnified when I tweeted a picture of the Academy Stadium, and my friends at Wokingham & Emmbrook FC replied,

“What Wokingham would do for something half that size”

The Hellenic League outfit’s home at Lowther Road cannot get floodlights and for years the local council has prevented the club from getting the kind of ground that would allow them to progress, despite allowing Reading FC to build a training ground within the council’s territory. Now Sheikh Mansoor’s largesse has no impact on a struggling club and an unsympathetic local authority, but watching a match at a second stadium that most other clubs would metaphorically kill for is a fair analogy for the game at the moment.

With all that money sloshing around, I fully expected City to put Oxford’s plucky youngsters to the sword, I’d joked over the phone that City should try and keep it below 10! However I suspect that City’s under-18s thought the same way because whilst their passing and movement was joy to behold, they massively over-elaborated. That often gave Oxford time to get back to defend, and in keeper Jack Stevens they had a real hero.

City’s domination was total but with just midfielder Marcus Wood’s strike to show for it Oxford clearly felt they had a chance. Bersant Celina’s injury-time goal gave the score a more realistic feel, but it was revealing looking at the players’ expressions when the final whistle went a few seconds later.

The City players went through the motions of shaking hands, then disappeared down the tunnel, but the Oxford players stood still, shattered, and clearly devastated at losing. Expectation is one thing, riches another, but hunger you simply can’t buy.

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