City began the first season of the new-look Premier League 2 with an end-to-end match on a zippy pitch in the heart of England’s National Football Centre.
It was Derby who looked most at ease in the early periods and they were nearly rewarded but midfielder Elsnik’s header was saved excellently by the powerful outstretched arm of Billy O’Brien.
O’Brien was in action again only moments later as he made a strong save low to his left from a 20-yard drive. However, the 20-year-old was powerless to stop the rebound as striker Charles Vernam fired home for the Rams.
The Blues spent the next ten minutes looking to control the midfield area and this dominance gave the silky running of midfielder Paolo Fernandes a platform to shine. The Spaniard picked the ball up on the edge of the box and weaved between two defenders but his powerful effort was saved well by Derby stopper Jonathan Mitchell for City’s biggest chance of the half.
Moments before the half-time whistle Charlie Oliver looked to start another attack from the middle of defence but his pass was intercepted and duly finished by Charles Vernam.
Early in the second period it was Fernandes who again looked the most threatening. This time his free-kick from 30 yards appeared to be dipping under the bar until Mitchell’s hand rose high to tip over and frustrate City.
As if to confound the bad feeling for the Blues, Derby earned a penalty only moments later. It wasn’t to be the end of City’s hopes though as Billy O’Brien’s trailing right leg deflected Callum Guy’s spot kick over the bar.
That proved to be the crucial moment as City went straight on the attack. First, Lukas Nmecha’s strike from a tight angle went underneath Mitchell then, after a period of sustained pressure, Aaron Nemane linked with Nmecha and found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The winger remained cool and fired into the opposite corner.
The comeback was complete minutes later as excellent build-up play down the right between Kongolo and substitute Demeaco Duhaney led to simple tap-in for the lethal Lukas Nmecha.
What it means...
City, largely made up of last season’s U18 Premier League winners, begin their U23 Premier League 2 campaign with a hard-earned victory.
Simon Davies’ side will be looking to carry their second half form on when they face Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
Football is about fine margins and it was only by the width of Billy O’Brien’s shin that City remained in this particular match early in the second half.
The goalkeeper faced up to Derby’s Callum Guy with the score at 2-0 and seemed to have dived past the ball but his outstretched leg guided the ball to safety and gave City the boost they needed to claw themselves back into the game.
Man of the match...
Billy O’Brien – The goalkeeper is an experienced head in comparison to much of the current side and the Blues needed his voice as the match seemed to be getting away from them.
As well as a superb penalty save, O’Brien’s footwork enabled the Blues to build from the back and the 20-year-old remained a loud and supportive presence for his teammates throughout.
How they lined up...
Despite a host of new names at this level for the Blues, they adopted the familiar 4-3-3 formation.
Billy O’Brien took up his position in goal fresh from the pre-season tour of Munich and China. Fellow traveller James Horsfield started at right-back alongside a centre-back pairing of Cameron Humphreys and Charlie Oliver with Marcus Wood at left-back.
Jacob Davenport sat slightly deeper than fellow midfielders Rodney Kongolo and Paolo Fernandes, who were looking to be key creative forces for the pacey front three of Aaron Nemane, Javairo Dilrosun and central striker Lukas Nmecha.
Derby XI: Mitchell, Santos, Olsson, Guy, Rawson, Hanson, Gordon, Elsnik, Jakobsen, Vernam, Babos