City took another step towards the Under-18 Premier League North title with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Blackburn.

Goals in either half from Alex Robertson and Charlie McNeill secured a sixth successive victory in all competitions for Gareth Taylor’s side, extending our impressive unbeaten run to 14.

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Goalkeeper Cieran Slicker starred for the league leaders, producing a string of impressive saves in a nervy finish, after Chanka Zimba’s deflected strike had halved the deficit with ten minutes remaining.

What happened

Although City dominated the early exchanges, Blackburn created the game’s first chance, as Sam Burned forced Slicker into a smart stop.

City responded well, threatening down the left flank through Sam Edozie on numerous occasions, but struggled to test Jordan Eastham with the visitors defending in numbers and forcing deflections.

The hosts found a way through the stubborn Blackburn defence on the 15-minute mark – through the quick feet and sheer determination of Josh Wilson-Esbrand, who tricked his way to the by-line before cutting back for Robertson to convert.

Pressing on the counter-attack, Blackburn continued to see more of the goalmouth action. Slicker was alert once more to thwart a backpost header, while the away side also clipped the crossbar with Isaac Whitehall’s free-kick in the final action of the half.

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James McAtee went closest to doubling the advantage in the opening 45 but saw his curling effort pushed wide by Eastham, and City headed into the break with a narrow advantage.

The hosts doubled our lead on the hour mark, as McNeill was released down the left flank and drove goalward, cutting inside before finishing well beyond Eastham.

Blackburn continued to create opportunities but found Slicker in fine form, although there was little the shot-stopper could do when Zimba’s low strike took a deflection and trickled into the net to give the visitors hope late on.

With the momentum, Blackburn looked to snatch a late leveller and Slicker produced the save of the match in the dying moments, tipping over the bar brilliantly to preserve the points.

What it means

City stay top of the table with 43 points from 17 games, extending our lead over second-placed Liverpool to 12 points, after the Reds (who still hold two games in hand) fell to a 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough.


                        Slicker stars as City march on in U18PL

Team news

Slicker took his place in goal, shielded by a backline of CJ Egan-Riley, Shea Charles, Finley Burns and Wilson-Esbrand.

Captain Joe Hodge, Ben Knight, Robertson and Edozie occupied the midfield with McNeill and McAtee leading the line upfront.

XI: Slicker, Egan-Riley, Charles, Burns, Wilson-Esbrand, Hodge (C), Knight, Robertson, NcNeill, McAtee, Edozie.

SUBS: Sobowale, McNamara, Gyabi, Hamilton, Bynoe-Gittens.

Gareth Taylor reaction

"We're pleased with the win; not so much the performance. Blackburn came strong and we had a young team – we started two Under-16s and had quite a few on the bench. It was a good challenge for the lads.

"We spoke at half-time about making the second half either difficult or comfortable for ourselves and I thought we made it difficult. Maybe that’s down to the fact the lads are young – the decision-making and the way we pressed and retained the ball wasn't good enough.

"Within that, there were some decent performances – Finley Burns and Cieran Slicker in goal got us out of trouble on a number of occasions.

"There were moments in the first half. We started the game well and another day, we could have been three or four up if we’d carried on the same way. Half-time came at a bad time for us."


                        Slicker stars as City march on in U18PL

Cieran Slicker reaction

"We’re not overly happy with the performance. We thought we could be a lot better.

"We made life hard for ourselves. I had a bit to do and I did what I could for the team but a busy afternoon means we haven’t done the best.

"It’s what we strive for. We’re looking to improve all the time. When you’re getting better, those big moments come."

Up next…

City welcome Burnley to the Academy Stadium on Wednesday 4 March in the FA Youth Cup sixth round, kicking-off at 7pm.

Tickets are priced at £3 for adults and £1 for concessions, and the game will also be broadcast live on our new subscription service CITY+.