Barclays Premier League Under-21s Division 1
Manchester United vs. Middlesbrough
Venue: Old Trafford
Date: Monday, 11 April 2016
Kick-off: 19:00 BST
Sunderland’s defeat on the same night means that victory at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur next week would wrap up the league crown for Warren Joyce’s side, after Paddy McNair netted the only goal of the game midway through the second half.
Club captain Wayne Rooney played an hour on his return from injury, as Phil Jones and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson completed the full 90 minutes, as 10 Englishman and a Northern Irish man began the game for the home side.
Early on, Arnel Jakupovic outmuscled RoShaun Williams before seeing his shot saved by the left boot of Sam Johnstone, as Rooney’s speculative effort bounced up nicely and was held by Joe Fryer at the other end.
Able to half-volley an attempt after a fortunate ricochet, James Weir forced Fryer to palm away a powerful strike away from danger.
Playing a neat one-two with Rooney, Weir saw a deflected shot hit the side netting, with Rooney firing over from range and Devonte Redmond’s curled effort held as half-time arrived.
Looking for the opener after the break, substitute Andreas Pereira saw a low shot held as Rooney struck a free-kick just over the bar, with Donald Love’s drive from Pereira’s lay-off also held.
The only goal of the game came after Pereira’s cross found McNair unmarked inside the penalty area after a late run, and after taking one touch to control, he finished calmly by slotting the ball into the bottom corner, sending Fryer the wrong way in the process.
Pereira and Joe Riley were off target as the latter also saw a header blocked, with the former curling an outrageous effort which rattled the crossbar late on.
In a rare attack for the visitors, Callum Cooke watched his effort fall wide, as Pereira saw a final attempt held as United held on for the victory.
Just like Leicester City have been doing so well in the past month or so at first team level, United pulled out a narrow and grinded victory whilst not being at their best, but results that are so important at this stage of the season, especially when going for the title.
Positives included Jones who looked much more assured at the back after looking shaky last week against Chelsea, with McNair beginning to excel in a defensive midfield role that he has prospered in at international level before with Northern Ireland.
With Sunderland’s campaign now over, and Chelsea’s outside chance of the title gone after tonight’s results, United have three games to retain their crown.
It won’t be easy, however, with three tough away trips seeing United through to the end of the season, including trips to Southampton and Chelsea, but the run-in starts away at Spurs this time next week, where the U21s will be hoping for a contrasting result to the first team yesterday, with the trophy in reaching distance now.
Manchester United: Johnstone; Riley, Williams, Jones, Borthwick-Jackson; McNair, Redmond; Love, Rothwell (A. Pereira 39), Weir (El Fitouri 46); Rooney (Tuanzebe 61).
Subs: Tuanzebe, J. Pereira, A. Pereira, Poole, El Fitouri.
Manager: Warren Joyce
Middlesbrough: Fryer; Johnson, McGinley, Tinkler, Burn; Fry, Wheatley; Jones (Kitching 76), McAloon (Morris 78), Cooke; Jakupovic.
Subs: Morris, Pears, Kitching, Maloney, Elsdon.
Manager: Paul Jenkins