Manchester United U21s overcame a stubborn West Ham United side 3-2 at Leigh Sports Village in a game filled with goalkeeping errors.
In what was a top-versus-bottom encounter in the North West, defender Reece Oxford gave the Hammers a shock lead before goals from Josh Harrop and Joe Rothwell put United back on track. Jordan Brown equalised on the stroke of half-time only for Harrop to bag his second, the all-important winner, midway through the second half.
Despite going over eight hours without scoring an away goal, the visitors took the lead through Oxford’s header from Josh Cullen’s deep free-kick as Joel Pereira failed to punch the ball clear as he ventured from off his line.
But it was another goalkeeping blunder that allowed United to get back on level terms.
Andy Kellett found Harrop on the left-hand side, and United’s number 10 cut inside, produced a rather tame shot, but the ball crept past Sam Howes at his near post for the equaliser (Vine).
Just one minute and 40 seconds later, a West Ham corner was cleared as Liam Grimshaw found Paddy McNair on the left and the Northern Irishman’s immaculate through ball allowed Rothwell to race onto the end of it through the middle and slot the ball past the helpless Howes (Vine).
Diego Poyet, son of Gus, was booked for a foul on Januzaj and the latter’s free-kick was deflected wide.
Januzaj saw another free-kick test the West Ham goal, as Howes palmed the ball behind for a corner.
A loose ball from a corner fell kindly to Grimshaw, but he was leaning back and fired the ball high over the bar.
West Ham were then back on level terms as a harmless ball forward fell to Donald Love, who had the simple task of clearing his lines, but he chose to pass back to Pereira, who had already began to come off his line, so the ball rolled past the goalkeeper, allowing Brown to tap the ball home.
Lewis Page rugby-tackled Januzaj who reacted badly, and both saw yellow, and Januzaj’s resulting free-kick was turned behind once more by Howes.
Into the second half and Cullen saw a speculative overhead kick fall over the bar without troubling.
James Wilson, who was having a quiet game by his standards, saw his shot held from the corner of the penalty area.
A fourth goalkeeping error in five goals led to United retaking the lead, as Januzaj’s corner saw the ball fall through Howes’ hands and allow Harrop to tap home and double his season tally and give the hosts a 3-2 lead with just over a quarter of the game remaining (Vine).
A breakaway move from United ended with Januzaj nicking the ball off a West Ham defender, bearing down on goal, but the ball took a nasty bobble and sat up just at the wrong moment, as the Belgian’s shot went over the bar.
West Ham substitute Alex Pike sent a delightful cross from the right-hand side to the far post, and Brown’s header back across goal was met by Cullen, but his header fell over the bar.
Wilson then saw a shot blocked behind for a corner by Reece Burke, but Januzaj’s resulting corner was sliced up into the air by some sloppy Hammers defending and Wilson’s acrobatic kick fell just wide of the post.
Januzaj’s surging run forward ended with a shot with the outside of his left foot and the ball again fell just wide of the post.
A late free-kick and corner for West Ham came to nothing, as United held out for the three points.
Four games remain, starting away at Leicester on April 20, but the title is in the hands of Warren Joyce’s side, and this win moved them four points clear of rivals Liverpool, albeit having now played a game more.
Home games against Manchester City and Southampton, with a trip to Craven Cottage to face Fulham on the final day also remain, with the U21s aiming to make it a season to remember.
Manchester United: J. Pereira; Rafael, McNair, Love, Kellett; Rothwell (Tuanzebe 85), Grimshaw, Goss; Harrop; Wilson (Weir 85), Januzaj.
Subs: Weir, O’Hara, Tuanzebe, Willock, Fosu-Mensah.
Manager: Warren Joyce
West Ham United: Howes; Westley, Burke, Oxford (Onariase 89), Page; Parfitt-Williams (Makasi 65), Nasha, Poyet, Knoyle (Pike 68); Brown, Cullen.
Subs: Pike, Bogard, Makasi, Onariase.