Barclays Premier League Under-21s
Manchester United vs. Southampton
Venue: Leigh Sports Village
Date: Monday, 4 May 2015
Kick-off: 19:00 BST
Ashley Fletcher’s 17th minute strike was enough to secure the victory, despite a positive response from the Saints after the break, who missed out on the opportunity to become the first side to do the double over United this season.
Phil Jones played just over an hour on his return from injury, as the young Reds reversed the 1-0 scoreline from December, when they lost on the South coast.
Right from the off, Fletcher held the ball up well to force a corner in the opening minute, but Adnan Januzaj’s corner was too high for captain Tom Thorpe, who failed to get over the ball, heading harmlessly over.
Another header, this time from Fletcher himself from Andreas Pereira’s cross, crashed against the crossbar as the visitors scrambled the ball behind for a corner.
The resulting corner was punched clear by Will Britt, and Liam Grimshaw struck the ball wide on the volley.
The critics will say that Fletcher should have finished the chance that hit the bar, but he made amends after Jones’ peach of a pass from the halfway line over the top found the number nine, and his chest control led to him firing the ball into the back of the net with his right foot (Vine).
After bagging an assist, Jones nearly followed that up with a goal, only to see his header from Januzaj’s corner force a fine save by Britt to turn the ball over the bar.
Referee David Richardson from Halifax awarded a soft free-kick to Southampton after Donald Love was alleged to have fouled Dominic Gape, but the latter’s deep free-kick from the left was comfortably held by the subdued Ben Amos.
Fletcher released Januzaj down the left-hand touchline, and the Belgian cut back, returning the ball to Fletcher, but his tame shot was held with ease, as the half came to a close.
After the break, Sam McQueen struck a free-kick into the United wall, before James Weir was booked for a foul on Jake Hesketh, leading to Gape’s resulting effort to be comfortably held by Amos.
Hesketh found Marcus Barnes towards the edge of the area, and the latter’s smart turn allowed him to shoot, but his left footed effort fell wide.
Alfie Jones was booked for a foul on Weir before McQueen’s deep free-kick from the right was held.
Southampton’s best chances of the game both led to the crossbar being struck.
Firstly, Hesketh’s low cross found Sam Gallagher, but his first time effort via his left foot flicked off the bar, before substitute Saiq El Fitouri, on for Jones, carelessly gave the ball away, allowing Hesketh himself to surge forward, seeing a left foot shot blocked by Thorpe, before his right footed rebound crashed against the bar and behind for a goal kick.
Januzaj did well to win a corner, but as Britt came to collect the ball from Januzaj’s corner, he injured himself in the process. A lengthy stoppage led to Britt needing the gas and air, as well as a stretcher to be removed from the field, with Cody Cropper on in his place.
Five minutes were added at the end of the game because of this, and this writer wishes Will Britt a speedy recovery.
In the final minute of the additional time, McQueen’s curling effort was heading goalwards, only for Amos to produce an excellent save to his right, before the full time whistle blew.
It certainly was a game of two halves, as an almost faultless first half display from United seemed to allow complacency to creep in, as the visitors dominated the second half and had some very good chances to draw level.
Fortunately for Warren Joyce’s side, they held onto the three points, which propels them back to the top of the table, leapfrogging Liverpool, who had done likewise to United after beating Leicester City 2-0 earlier in the day.
Just two games remain for United at this level, both against neighbours Manchester City, with the home game falling next Tuesday at Old Trafford, with the away fixture yet to be confirmed, having been postponed back in December.
Manchester United: Amos; Love (El Fitouri 68), Jones (Willock 63), Blackett, Kellett; Thorpe, Grimshaw; Weir, A. Pereira, Januzaj; Fletcher.
Subs: Willock, J. Pereira, El Fitouri, Pearson, Williams.
Manager: Warren Joyce
Southampton: Britt (Cropper 89); Mugabi, Cook, McCarthy, Debayo; Jones, Gape; Barnes (Sims 79), Hesketh (Seager 79), McQueen; Gallagher.
Subs: Sims, Cropper, Seager, Wood, Sinclair.