A late goal consigned City to a 1-0 defeat against Benfica in the second match of the pre-season tour of Portugal.
City u18s kicked off the second game of their pre-season tour against Portuguese giants Benfica at the sweltering Caixa Futebol Campus near Lisbon.
A match of few chances ended in an eagerly contested defeat for City – a hugely unfortunate own goal by Billy O’Brien with 10 minutes to go proving to be the difference on the day.
James Horsfield and Jack Byrne came into the side after shining as second half substitutes in Thursday’s 4-1 win over U.D Leiria and wasted no time making their presence felt in the centre of midfield against a technically proficient Benfica team.
Under-18s Coach Adam Sadler matched up Benfica’s 4-3-3, fielding a number of trialists in advanced areas and it was an attractive first half with both teams keeping the ball on the floor and moving around the opposition’s backlines.
It was the hosts who looked like the likelier to break the deadlock as the half wore on, thanks to their intricate passing in tight areas around the City penalty box.
It was testament to the organisational skills of Sam Jones and George Swan that the scores remained level going into the break, as well as the sharp reflexes of O’Brien.
O’Brien had to be at his very best to deny Silva in the 42nd minute, tipping over a powerful effort on the turn from the Eagle’s no.9, before Benfica playmaker Edson narrowly missed the target with the last kick of the half.
Sadler shuffled his pack at half-time, bringing James Hardy and Brandon Barker into the fray to keep legs fresh and to hand game time to all of the 29-man squad that travelled.
10 minutes after half-time Benfica’s threat increased and a flurry of chances followed, with O’Brien required again, pulling off a string of fine saves to keep City on level terms.
Young Tom Holland was introduced with 15 minutes to go, giving him a first taste of under-18s football and making him the latest graduate from the under-15's Canon Lion City Cup campaign after Joe Nuttall’s goalscoring cameo against Leiria.
With ten minutes remaining, the deadlock was finally broken in highly fortuitous circumstances. Second-half substitute Frederico saw his strike come back off the post, hit the City ‘keeper on the back, and roll into the net.
It was rough on the Bury-born stopper who deserved better after his heroics earlier in the match.
It was a game that could prove to be hugely significant in the development of these young players, as they get used to playing in different conditions against teams from unfamiliar footballing cultures.
The Blues’ third and final match of the tour comes against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday, with Sadler’s men looking to sign off with a win.