Liam Delap was having one of those games that strikers can sometimes have, doing everything but put the ball in the net.
The 17-year-old Manchester City striker had bullied the Mansfield defence all game with his pace and power taking them by surprise, yet the game remained alive because he simply could not take any of the chances that he created. In the cliched narrative, this EFL Trophy game 10 days ago was set up to be a lesson in how you don’t get the time and space against men that Under-18 or Under-23 side will allow and with every missed opportunity the cries of frustration rang louder around the empty stadium.
Already standing at well over six foot, the former Derby academy youngster can play the target man role well but also boasts impressive speed and skill – as shown in the first half when he controlled a ball onto his chest, took a touch and played a precision pass to set Adrian Bernabe scampering clear for the opening goal.
What’s more, even a Delap on tilt after so many misses had the composure in the 89th minute to hold the ball away from three defenders, wriggle free towards the centre of the goal and lash the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. In injury time, he capitalised on a defensive slip to cushion his kick over the on-rushing goalkeeper from 40 yards and knock it into an empty net before it touched the floor.
« I was a bit frustrated in the first half, I had a few chances and probably should have taken one but you have to keep on going until the last minute and I scored two in the last five minutes to get a 3-0 win that we needed, » he told M.E.N Sport.
« Before I think I would have got frustrated but I just kept trying because I knew I was going to get another chance. To come away with two goals is not too bad. As a striker and the player I am, I need goals and the only enjoyment I get out of the game is scoring.
« I could have probably had five or six but at the end of the day it’s good. »
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Delap may only get enjoyment in goals but it is his whole game that makes him immensely watchable.
It is rare to see a forward with such all-round development at this age – he only turns 18 in February – and one that enjoys playing so much on edge. He picked up six yellow cards in eleven Under-18 games last year and notched his first of the season after getting involved in a pushing match in the first half at Mansfield, but insists that he needs that edge to be at the very top of his game.
City have had enough youngsters show promise in their academy and not progress to the first team for caution to be advised, and his dad (and former professional) Rory is on hand to keep the player firmly grounded.
However, the rave reviews from Mansfield were just the latest to boost the profile of a player that is already on Pep Guardiola’s radar having trained with the first team after lockdown. He may not look like the typical build of a Guardiola striker but he is showing that he is able to score all kinds of goals at every level he is put in.
At the very least, Delap is forcing coaches to keep watching him to see if he can keep his level up.
« I was excited for the taste of men’s football. That’s where I want to be so to get that opportunity to do well is good for me, » he said on Tuesday.
« It was a really good experience training with the first team too. Obviously they’re the best of the best and learning from them and being around them shows what the highest level is like and what it takes to be there. Getting a taste of that gives me great confidence. »
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