Manchester United U21’s were defeated 2-1 by Southampton in the Barclays U21 Premier League at St Mary’s on Monday evening. Warren Joyce made a few changes to his side, which beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 at White Hart Lane last Tuesday which saw them retain the U21 Premier League title in typical Manchester United fashion by scoring the winning goal through Guillermo Varela in the final minute of the match. United have in effect run away with the league this season, despite the fact Sunderland have spent a lot of time at the top of the table, with many of United’s matches being postponed for whatever reason. United took advantage when they needed to and once Sunderland had played all of their matches a fortnight ago, United struck to retain the title they won a year ago, for the fourth time in five years.
Sam Johnstone, Axel Tuanzebe, Phil Jones, Regan Poole and Scott McTominay all started for Joyce’s side with Josh Harrop and Matty Willock returning from injury and Tosin Kehinde rising up from the U18’s. Manchester United started the game well with a shot on goal inside the first four minutes with Scott McTominay and Regan Poole on the attack, with Poole’s turned shot being thwarted by the Southampton goalkeeper. Southampton won a corner in the eighth minute of the match, which was punched away by Johnstone, with the home side looking to capitalise through Harrison Reed, whose effort was off target. United won a free-kick in the eleventh minute of the match with Joe Riley taking the kick, which was deflected unfortunately, stopping United from scoring.
United seemed to be doing everything right to find an early goal, which had evaded them thus far. United had many chances to find an early goal, perhaps the best one being Devonte Redmond’s rocket shot, which Gazzaniga saved. United were not exactly playing like champions, but as they have already won the league, that may be understandable. Removing players like Andreas Pereira from the side was always going to cause issues, which could mean he is likely to feature for the first team this coming weekend with United entertaining champions elect Leicester City at Old Trafford on Sunday. Here is to hoping the talented Belgian-born Brazilian is recalled, as squad rotation is something that needs to happen with the FA Cup final on the horizon in a month’s time, as each player needs a chance to force themselves into the squad for the final.
Paddy McNair seems to have a problem with his hamstring with eight minutes remaining in the first half. Substitutes have been warming up for a few minutes, McNair may last until the break, but may not start the second half. Shame that. In the final few minutes of the first half, Southampton were the better side. McNair gave away a free-kick after a challenge, which led to a corner, of which Johnstone caught and distributed the ball upfield with United still needing a goal. After no added time at the end of the first half, the two sides were level at 0-0. The second half will be very telling as to whether United can extend their lead at the top of the table to five points – it is currently three with the score level.
No changes at the start of the second half from either team, with both looking for that breakthrough goal. The first half was relatively dull, with the second half needing to be a lot more lively. Less than 90 seconds from the start of the second half and Sam Gallagher breaks the deadlock for Southampton. United now have a lot to do in order to save face and not leave Southampton as the losing side. United have been chasing the game since conceding the goal to Southampton, but could have equalised through Riley, who should have done better with his effort rising into the stands. Josh Harrop and Matty Willock replaced Guillermo Varela and Regan Poole with just under 30 minutes of the match remaining. United have a lot of work to do in the time remaining. Riley had moved to the right-back position after the change, coming back from his role further forward. Southampton had a free-kick shortly after the substitution, but Targett’s shot was well over the crossbar with Johnstone looking like he would have got to the ball anyway.
On the 70th minute, Southampton had yet another free-kick from the edge of the box, which turned into their second goal with Paddy McNair heading past Johnstone. United were 2-0 down with even more to do in order to salvage something from the match. In the 76th minute of the match Matty Willock poked home a goal which Gazzaniga could not do anything to thwart. Are United on the verge of a comeback, or will this be just a consolation goal? Phil Jones ended his spell on the 77th minute of the match with Demetri Mitchell replacing him. Five minutes remained and United were being pressured by the home side, who had slowed the game down considerably to stop United from finding that equaliser. United rallied in the final minutes of the match, but Gazzaniga seemed to be Southampton’s saviour. Redmond has a shot from a United rally, but it was well off target. It was a rare defeat for Warren Joyce’s side, who face Chelsea on Friday 7th May 2016 in their final match of the season. It was an end to United’s seven match unbeaten run this season.
Goals: Matty Willock 76′
Manchester United: Johnstone; Tuanzebe, Williams, Jones (Mitchell 77′), Borthwick-Jackson; McNair, Poole (Willock 63′); Varela (Harrop 63′), Redmond, Riley McTominay
Substitutes Not Used: Henderson, Kehinde