Match report: From our own correspondent Alan Gregory - Manchester City Football Academy
On Thursday 7th January 2016 they flocked to Manchester City Football Academy to marvel at what Image Group manager Dave Brunt described as 'most talented group of young players in Europe' - and ended up saluting an old boy who'll turn 53 this year.
Steve Platts left Manchester United’s youth team over 30 years ago for a career in electrical contracting, and there had not been too much weeping, wailing or teeth-gnashing over his departure.
But this inter company first leg was a personal triumph for Image Group’s stand-in midfielder Platts - the general who masterminded a compelling first half strike and laid on what could have been a 78th-minute match of the day moment.
It was the big Englishman’s first appearance in 12 months - a white-hot streak with flowing locks and piston like thighs which was in stark contrast to Image Group winger Neil Cousins, who had equaled the record for the least amount of touches in the first 20 minutes of a semi professional football game.
Interviewed after the game Cousins commented limply “It was cruel, brutal and completely one sided. Men against boys. We tried to play like Barcelona but they were on us like wolves. After that we had to play like Wimbledon”.
With the mercurial midfield wizard Ben Crosby missing through sickness it was left to the dynamic talents of Damo Gibbons and Jack Lee to boss the middle of the park with measured assurance.
Damo gave as good as he got for 65 minutes after which he suffered a foot injury which saw him immediately substituted as he’s going skiing in France in a couple of weeks. Gibbons said "After all the money I've spent at the Chill Factor I did'nt want to risk the holiday".
Brunt claimed Damo was one of the 'greatest English players ever'. And while that may be a little overstated, there is little doubting his influence on this Image Group squad.
There is now the prospect of a return leg promoting eager anticipation to see what alternative tactics Brunt will deploy to overcome the fitness and vitality of the Manchester City Staff squad.
It is tough to say whether this return fixture matters to Dave Brunt, who it seems is likely to be sacked in a bid to revive the fortunes of this team.
He ended up bemoaning MCFC Staff's controversial opener as well as a vain penalty shout from Dan Fleming who was a lone figure for much of the first half.
Ultimately, this was another example of Image Group being outplayed on their travels - a trend which intensifies the siren calls for Pep Guardiola to drop down a few levels and see if he can mould something from this lump of clay.
Brunt had made his bold assertion about the strength of his young players in his team talk – asking the question “If you end up playing badly, you’ve only got yourselves to blame?’
Yet with Michael Houghton polished at the back and Jamie Tetlow rampaging in attack, Image Group will fancy their chances of completing the job at the Etihad in the return fixture – should it happen.
Image Group club captain Rick Jervis had called for a 'bearpit' atmosphere but with the meagre Image Group supporters cowed by a hapless first 5 minutes, the opening period was tumbleweed territory. Speaking in a post match interview Jervis claimed "It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we at Image Group have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory".
Carl Booth, in Image Group’s retro black and red stripes, was like a none-shall-pass doorman, felling attack after attack as if armed with lead piping, a clip board and a high vis jacket.
The City staff team had multiple efforts ruled out for offside. Wave after wave like a Cornish beach scene, only for the linesman to have spotted that three of the MCFC Staff men had strayed leaving the opposition manager seething.
Image Group were briefly roused, Jack Nickeas forcing a full-stretch save from Steve Exley but over the full 90 minutes, Image Group's luck finally ran out.
A Bob Crick corner was cleared to Tom Bywater, who thudded a shot from the edge of the area, only to see the ball balloon into the green fence netting.
Man of the match Charlie Joe ’the banjo’ Morris shone as the Image Group superstar denying the one on one’s of the MCFC Staff team time and again.
Lee Jones (City TV) attempted an outrageous lob, but with Morris' influence growing, Jones was out-muscled and left frustrated.
Andy Williamson appearing in a second half cameo role narrowly shot wide and Neil ‘the ghost’ Cousins had a decent penalty shout late on.
Match referee Scott Mathieson finally performed an act of kindness blowing for time ignoring the pleas from Brunt for 12 minutes injury time, after which the away team hobbled off to the hot showers.
Upon leaving the stadium Brunt was heard to say to the linesman "I was just saying to your colleague, the referee has got me the sack, thank him ever so much for that, won't you?"
The final score – Image Group 1 – Manchester City 9.