Alejandro Garnacho and Manchester United give fans what they have been waiting for in FA Youth Cup final
With the final lost, the Nottingham Forest number seven Joshua Powell lost his temper. The Manchester United players were up for some United aggro and emerged from the melee celebrating. The supporters buzzed off it. Kobbie Mainoo was still celebrating a minute later with a tackle in front of the Scoreboard End.
Such was the youthful audience for the youth team an impromptu light show ushered in added time. In a dark season, the academy is the keeper of the flame at United.
This was an uplifting evening for everyone at the club. There was a trophy presentation and 'Glory Glory Man United' played at full-time. That has not happened in nine years.
Read more: United Youth Cup final player ratings
United's unused academy graduates charged onto the pitch, Hannibal Mejbri among them. Alvaro Fernandez left his seat in the directors' box to hurtle down the steps and join them. They all hared towards the Stretford End.
The retro Adidas Originals tracksuits they sported for the national anthem were a nod to the Class of '92. The banner in the Stretford End read 'Class of '22'. The latest rookies have emulated Giggs, Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Nevilles.
Alejandro Garnacho, the best in this class, secured United's 11th Youth Cup triumph, capping a remarkable couple of months. The 17-year-old has rubbed shoulders with Lionel Messi in the Argentina squad, trained with Cristiano Ronaldo and made his United debut.
Ronaldo gifted his hat-trick ball from the Norwich win last month to Garnacho and, like his idol, he stepped in for a pressure penalty in front of the Stretford End. Garnacho now has the same boot sponsors as Ronaldo and converted coolly, crowning the winner with Ronaldo's signature 'Siiiiu' celebration. The crowd obliged to provide the soundtrack.
Garnacho lashed in his second in added time, via a deflection, the cue for Butt and Giggs to vacate their leather-padded seats in the directors' box. Garnacho whipped his shirt off and outstretched his arms, as Ronaldo did early this season. He received the most meaningless booking of his young career.
At full-time, Garnacho clutched an Argentina flag. Every United Youth Cup-winning squad has produced a player to appear at least 50 times for the first-team.
Ronaldo has been on holiday but is due back in Carrington on Thursday morning for a reunion between master and apprentice. Garnacho has been an unused substitute in five of his six first-team squad appearances and is deserving of a more fulfilling afternoon at Selhurst Park.
The former United reserve coach Warren Joyce, in the away dugout, will be spitting feathers. Garnacho blindsided Zach Abbott to intercept the ball but was felled well outside the area. The referee pondered for a few seconds and pointed to the spot on guidance from his myopic linesman. It was a pity the final was effectively decided by a refereeing howler.
For Denton-born Rhys Bennett, whatever else he achieves in his career he has the memory of scoring at Old Trafford as United captain and hoisting the trophy. The centre-back was imperious all night, another leader to thrive at this level, as Teden Mengi and Brandon Williams have done in recent years.
Gorton-born McNeill turned cheerleader in front of the Stretford End early in the second-half and lasted barely 20 minutes more. The former City academy goalscorer attempted to sneak past coach Travis Binnion, who demanded acknowledgement before a brief exchange of words. McNeill, old enough to sense the cameras were on him, covered his mouth. That is moot now.
United sold more than 67,000 tickets and the official attendance was 67,492. It was the biggest crowd a Forest side had played in front of since the 1992 League Cup final against United at Wembley.
Schoolchildren in the Stretford End twirled scarves in support midway through the second-half, a throwback sight. "Oh United, we love you," they chorused as full-time loomed. It has been a while since that was audible.
The magnitude of the occasion could be gauged by those present in the directors' box. Sir Alex Ferguson was sat next to Sam Allardyce. Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Michael Carrick, Bryan Robson, Harry Maguire, David de Gea, Bruno Fernandes, and Eric Bailly were also in attendance. Forest's European Cup-winning captain John McGovern sported a club tie and the first-team manager Steve Cooper was on the second row of the directors' box.
Les Kershaw, Dave Bushell, Mark Dempsey, Neil Wood and Neil Ryan are not names to necessarily bracket with the United glitterati but their work at junior level, from the Ferguson years to the present, has been invaluable.
Carrick and Kieran McKenna were invited by the United academy as a thank you for their work with the youngsters. McKenna coached the Under-18s for two seasons before his promotion to the first-team and Carrick vocally championed United's fledglings as a player and coach.
The United squad arrived clad in their Paul Smith suits, their attire more presentable than the tracksuited first-team. Every seat in Ferguson's row was occupied and he greeted his old secretary Kath Phipps with a peck.
United failed to build on Bennett's early breakthrough and Forest, the more strapping side, limited them in open play. Garnacho curled wide in the 40th minute and four minutes later Vitek fumbled Joshua Powell's shot.
Vitek lay prone, his face buried in the turf, for several seconds as teammate after teammate patted him encouragingly. His next action was to vigilantly hare off his line and clear his lines but he soon buried his face in his hands, the error still haunting him. Vitek was within earshot of the merciless Forest fans for the second-half but did not err. At the other end, Garnacho was unerring.