Barclays Premier League Under-21s
Manchester United vs. Norwich City
Venue: Old Trafford
Date: Thursday, 17 April 2014
Kick-off: 19:00 BST
A brace from substitute James Weir looked to have sealed United’s place in the semi-finals, before Carlton Morris from the penalty spot and Reece Hall-Johnson in the final minute saw Norwich remain in that all-important 11th spot, despite having Ray Grant sent off five minutes from the end.
A quiet first half saw minimal chances from both sides as Norwich looked set up for a draw, including doubling up on in-form winger and player of the season nominee Saidy Janko.
It was Janko’s cross which led to a short corner being taken that saw Guillermo Varela – recovered from his three stitches on Monday night – pass the ball into James Wilson’s feet, before his quick touch and shot went way over.
Andreas Pereira saw his free-kick hit the wall before Joe Rothwell scuffed his shot straight at Remi Matthews in the Norwich goal.
With David Moyes watching from the stands alongside Chris Woods and Steve Round, the youngsters were looking to impress, and Wilson fired a first time effort over the ball after a great through ball down the channel.
He then dragged a shot wide in frustration as the two banks of four from the visitors didn’t look like being broken.
Paddy McNair’s surging run from the back saw him receive the ball back from Wilson after his neat flick round the corner, only for the centre-back’s over hit through ball to be gathered by Matthews before Wilson could latch onto it.
A great ball down the right-hand touchline from Varela was collected by Janko, and he finally got the better of the impressive Michee Efete at left-back before his pull back was again fluffed by Rothwell, in what was United’s best chance of the half.
Just seven minutes into the second half and United were made to sweat as lone striker and hero from Monday night Wilson was forced off through injury, and replaced by Weir.
He looked lively from the off as he had a shot blocked by Norwich captain Kyle Callan-McFadden, before a Ben Pearson and Pereira combination saw the latter’s driven shot towards goal comfortably saved.
Weir saw another shot deflected wide for a corner this time before the deadlock was finally broken in the 68th minute.
Rothwell’s back heel was judged to have been kept in by Varela on the right-hand touchline – although replays showed the ball had gone out – before he sent Janko flying down the wing. His pull back found Pereira whose shot was deflected into the air, but as Louis Rowley went to challenge Matthews for the ball, Ewan McNeil of Norwich got the final touch, as the ball flicked off his head, before Weir was left with an easy tap-in, after being correctly judged as onside.
Norwich protests about the ball going out of play did nothing to help their cause, as frustration kicked in, with Grant receiving his first booking for a studs up challenge on Rothwell.
With just under 15 minutes remaining, United looked to have sealed the win, as more good work down the right saw them double their lead.
Varela flicked the ball over the weary Efete and got to the by-line before pulling the ball back just behind Weir, whose first time effort found the back of the net in what looked a difficult chance to take.
Maybe some complacency and tiredness crept in for the boys in Red, as Rowley gifted Norwich a lifeline with 11 minutes to go, handballing Elliott Bennett’s attempted cross, leaving referee Joseph Johnson with no choice but to award a penalty.
Morris expertly slotted the ball down the middle of the goal, as Joel Pereira dived to his right.
A United penalty appeal was waved away as Rowley himself went to ground from a corner before Norwich looked like they had given themselves too much to do as Grant was sent off for a second booking for a dive as Pearson – himself on a yellow – came lunging in towards Grant, only for no contact to be made, and the correct decision awarded.
The resulting free-kick saw Varela’s lay-off struck first time by Pereira, only for his first time strike to hit the wall.
He would have been left disappointed as his performance merited a goal, especially as he was playing in a false number nine role after Wilson’s withdrawal.
He would have been left even more disappointed as United saw their slender lead pegged back.
Goal scorer from the spot Morris fed Hall-Johnson, whose shot took a cruel deflection off of McNair, as the ball nestled in the bottom corner in the 90th minute, sending the visitors back to East Anglia with an unlikely and undeserved point.
Having played down at White Hart Lane on Monday night and playing out of their skins to earn themselves a victory, maybe fatigue played a part in United’s demise tonight, leaving them with work to do at the Madejski Stadium next Thursday, where they face Reading in their final game.
A win will do in that game in order to guarantee a semi-final spot, with Warren Joyce now having the luxury of a full week’s preparation for that crucial tie, and to make amends for what happened at Old Trafford tonight.
Manchester United: J. Pereira; Varela, McNair, Ekangamene, James; Rowley, Pearson; Janko, Rothwell, A. Pereira; Wilson (Weir 52).
Subs: Rudge, Gollini, Weir, Harrop, McConnell.
Manager: Warren Joyce
Norwich City: R. Matthews; McNeil, Callan-McFadden, Awuah, Efete; Bennett, Grant, Norman, Byrne-Hewitt (Cole 78); Hall-Johnson; Morris (Fox 90+2).
Subs: Fox, Killip, Cole, Ashley-Seal.