Barclays Premier League Under-21s Division 1
Southampton vs. Manchester United
Venue: St. Mary’s Stadium
Date: Monday, 25 April 2016
Kick-off: 19:00 BST
Manchester United’s seven match unbeaten run at U21 level ended with a 2-1 defeat to Southampton at St. Mary’s.
The newly-crowned Champions succumbed to Sam Gallagher’s fifth goal in as many games, with Paddy McNair’s own goal doubling the Saints’ lead.
Substitute Matty Willock pulled a goal back, but despite a late rally, United lost this fixture for a second consecutive season.
Early on, McNair’s slipped pass fed Scott McTominay whose effort was parried, with Regan Poole’s rebound on the stretch bouncing into the ground and held.
Harrison Reed volleyed wide for the hosts, as Joe Riley’s free-kick flicked off Dominic Gape in the wall and was parried away from danger by Paulo Gazzaniga.
The Argentine keeper was at the rescue again, turning Devonte Redmond’s snapshot volley onto the post, as Josh Sims saw a tame effort held with half-time unusually arriving after no additional time which highlighted the tepid nature of the opening period.
This changed 77 seconds after the restart, with Jake Hesketh’s through ball playing in Gallagher, who took one touch before slotting in a neat finish with his left foot.
Both number 11’s Riley and Sims fired over, with Reed’s laid free-kick seeing Matt Targett’s strike fall just over the bar.
Then came the second goal, with Phil Jones fouling Gallagher near the byline, and Targett’s free-kick was punched by Sam Johnstone into the back of McNair, with the ball dropping in for 2-0.
Looking for a response, Josh Harrop’s fresh energy off the bench saw his low shot fall just wide after a promising run, before the visitors did half the deficit moments later.
McNair whipped in a decent cross from the right, which seemed comfortable enough for Gazzaniga, but he spilled the ball into the path of Willock to poke home and give United a much-needed lifeline with 15 minutes remaining.
McTominay’s header flicked over from substitute Demetri Mitchell’s cross, as Harrop’s shot on the turn was held with ease.
Gazzaniga then atoned with his earlier error, denying McNair’s header from Redmond’s left-hand cross with a superb one-handed save low to his right, before palming away Harrop’s volley in stoppage time, as Redmond skewed the rebound too wide to trouble.
A disappointing result but an encouraging revival in response to falling two goals behind from Warren Joyce’s makeshift side which saw them start the game with eight defenders and two midfielders.
There is nothing that McNair could do about his own goal, but he is beginning to flourish in a defensive midfield role that he will undoubtedly take on for Northern Ireland in this summer’s European Championships, a role that he could fulfil for United’s first team in the future perhaps.
The U21s conclude their league campaign with a trip to Chelsea a week on Friday, with a 7:05pm kick-off commencing proceedings at Stamford Bridge, where the Champions will be aiming to finish on a high.
Manchester United: Johnstone; Tuanzebe, Jones (Mitchell 76), Williams, Borthwick-Jackson; McNair, Poole (Willock 62); Varela (Harrop 62), Redmond, Riley; McTominay.
Subs: Mitchell, Henderson, Harrop, Willock, Kehinde.
Manager: Warren Joyce
Southampton: Gazzaniga; Gape, Gardos, Jones, Targett; Reed, Little; Olomola, Hesketh, Sims; Gallagher.
Subs: Cook, Lewis, Johnson, N’Lundulu, Vokins.
Manager: Martin Hunter