By Rob Britton.
Warren Joyce was forced to field a weakened team due to several players being included in the first team’s travelling squad to face Galatasaray in the Champions League. Absentees meant Mats Daehli, Jack Barmby and James Wilson were called up to the matchday squad from the U18s. Two days earlier the trio plus Adnan Januzaj were involved in the U18s 0-2 victory over their Villa counterparts.
United enjoyed the early chances when skipper Bebe saw a dangerous cross well held by Villa ‘keeper Craig Hill, who soon afterwards stopped a first time effort from Januzaj.
Ten minutes before half time United created a golden opportunity to take the lead when Januzaj cleverly flicked Luke Hendrie’s pass towards Lawrence, who dummied his marker, only for Hill to pull off a fine save from close range.
Moments later Lawrence was caught in possession by Jordan Graham, who instantly hit a well driven shot towards the near post, but Jonny Sutherland was equal to the effort. Bebe had several attempts on goal but was never really successful, whilst summer signing Angelo Henriquez was isolated for much of the first half, leaving both teams stalemate at half time.
Villa started the second half in determined fashion and it paid off when they were awarded a rather soft penalty, as Reece James was deemed guilty of pulling back Graham. Graham brushed himself down, stepped up and sent Sutherland the wrong way to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
United struggled to force their attacking play afterwards, so Joyce introduced Daehli, who impressed on the weekend for the U18s, for a struggling Lawrence, but Villa remained dominant in possession and soon after the substitution Graham tested Sutherland after stealing the ball from Ekangamene.
Villa continued to create chances, as Mason Watkins-Clark saw his flying header blocked and Jack Grealish scuffed an opportunity, after he easily skipped past Bebe and Frederic Veseli.
Veseli had United’s last chance to salvage a point, but saw his volley fly over the top of the bar, leaving United pointless at Moss Lane, something the Red Devils are not used to.
United’s U21s are now under pressure to qualify for the elite stages. Tottenham Hotspur lead League Group 2 with 20 points from 10 games, while both United and Villa are on 15 points from 9 games, with the latter in second place thanks to a better goal difference.
United’s next fixture is a home encounter against Sunderland on Monday night and with players returning from Champions League duty they will fancy their chances of qualification and maintaining Moss Lane’s status as a fortress.
United: Sutherland; Veseli, McCullough, Fornasier, James; Bebe, Ekangamene (Grimshaw 74), Hendrie (Barmby 76), Lawrence (Daehli 58), Januzaj; Henriquez.
Latest Manchester United U21s statistics here.
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