Manchester United regained top spot in the U21 Premier League Division One after beating neighbours Manchester City in the derby at Leigh Sports Village on Thursday night. A single goal from midfielder Joe Rothwell was enough to earn United all three points.
The junior Red Devils only needed a controlled performance to triumph in what was a fairly turgid game between two teams usually adept at creating chances.
Here's how the table looks after this significant result:
United's table-toppers will now host Reading on Monday, the same night City travel to Leicester City. For a complete look at the upcoming schedule, visit the league's official site.
United went with an attack-minded team, featuring Devonte Redmond and forward Will Keane. The club provided the full starting XI:
U21s: #mufc v Manchester City - J.Pereira; Love, Williams, Poole, Riley; Fosu-Mensah, Rothwell, Redmond; Harrop, Keane, Weir.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 11, 2016
City planned to respond with a strong-looking squad that included winger Bersant Celina. The Citizens detailed the full lineup:
Keane was the first to worry City's defence after pouncing on a mistake at the back. But after scoring five in his last action for United's fledglings, Keane found himself denied by some smart goalkeeping.
However, Keane turned provider just after the 15-minute mark when he latched on to a long ball from the back. He promptly turned his marker and calmly rolled a perfectly weighted pass for advancing midfielder Rothwell to slot home.
Simon Bajkowski felt that although the hosts merited the lead, it was the visitors' own poor display that really stood out:
1-0 United lead. Thoroughly deserved, City yet to wake up— Simon Bajkowski (@spbajko) February 11, 2016
The atmosphere was surprisingly subdued for a derby, with few fierce challenges to rouse the supporters. But United did show more verve and appetite in attacking areas, regularly pouncing on loose balls and always looking to play between the lines.
By contrast, City were often failing to pick the right pass in the final third. When the young Citizens did produce a slick move, they usually found a United defender sacrificing himself to block the ball.
Manuel Garcia saw his shot blocked on what was City's best chance of the half, while United goalkeeper Joel Castro Pereira impressively turned over a header. At the other end, a curled free-kick from Josh Harrop drew a fine save to help keep maintain United's advantage at the half.
Harrop started well after the break, showing plenty of classy touches and attacking intent. United's No. 10 was perhaps the best player on the pitch.
James Weir had the chance to double the Reds' lead, only for a last-ditch tackle to deny him. Bajkowski noted how United were still the team doing the pressing:
Good tackle by Angelino to deny Weir chance of a second. #MUFC still creating the better opportunities but only lead 1-0— Simon Bajkowski (@spbajko) February 11, 2016
City tried to rally late, but resolute defending from a United team taking up a compact shape ensured the away side left empty-handed, although Garcia drew a pair of saves from Pereira in stoppage time.
United will be pleased to have come through this tricky derby with all three points. Coach Warren Joyce's group didn't exactly sparkle but showed a valuable ability to grind out a result in a big game.
As for City, their key players didn't do enough to influence the game and change what was a sluggish display.