When James McAtee went down with cramp just after the hour mark of Manchester City’s under-23 win over Manchester United, it was entirely understandable.
McAtee had put in an all-action performance in the Premier League 2 victory, winning and scoring a penalty to open the scoring that saw the young Blues net three quick goals in the first half to sink their neighbours.
That wasn’t the reason for his cramp, though, as he’d been on first team duty earlier in the day as City beat Chelsea in the Premier League. McAtee, plus three EDS teammates, had warmed-up, made themselves ready if needed, warmed down, then wandered across the road from the Etihad to the Academy Stadium to play for the under-23s at teatime.
“It’s a brilliant day to be part of the club,” academy head coach Brian Barry-Murphy told MEN Sport.
“Those players deserve a lot of credit because for ourselves just watching the [Chelsea] game was a draining experience.”
McAtee was swiftly substituted after his cramp, closely followed by full-back Josh Wilson-Esbrand who also sat on the bench against Chelsea. Romeo Lavia and Luke Mbete looked like they could have played all night against United, despite having also been part of Pep Guardiola’s squad earlier in the day.
Barry-Murphy explained how City’s first-team coaches were happy to allow the four players to turn out for the academy, just as Cole Palmer did in October when he came off the bench against Burnley in the Premier League late on, before starting in the evening against Leicester under-23s, and scoring a hat-trick in the process.
Palmer was not fit to play in either game on Saturday, but was at the Academy Stadium to cheer on his colleagues, and Barry-Murphy noted that the Wythenshawe-born star’s example has set a new standard among the club’s youngsters.
“For them to be involved in it and then come over here and play, it’s a great sign of what the club want to do,” he said.
“To see those players put so much work into this game on the back of what they’ve been involved with the first team. It’s a very important sign of what we’re trying to do. It’s very refreshing to see them perform in the manner they did.
“Obviously previously Cole asked to play and he’s set the trend, the players are very keen to do both. There’s a lot of clubs who probably wouldn’t like the idea of their players doing it but it’s testament to the way our club works that the players want to do that and the manager allows them to do it.
“We’re grateful and it is of great benefit to those players to get minutes to play amongst their own age level as well as being involved with the first team. It’s unique and very beneficial to everyone.”
City’s derby win moves them to second in the Premier League 2 table, two points off leaders West Ham.
And Barry-Murphy also hailed the young players who featured against United. Winger Dire Mebude impressed after coming off the bench early on due to Kane Taylor’s injury, while Kian Breckin helped Lavia win the midfield battle against United players who have represented their first team this season.
The coach added: “For the players it’s important to get that game under their belts, towards the end a few of them were toiling. A lot of them were young players in the team, Kian Breckin came in, Dire got some valuable minutes. Sammy Robinson was back in the squad and there’s a good dynamic in terms of players at different stages of their development.
“The more we can produce these performances inevitably means we’re getting results that mean we’re competing for something alongside our development. It’s really important to be competitive, the lads are very keen to hunt down whoever’s above them in the table but I just want performances and push them in that sense.”