Sunderland were the league leaders of the U21 Premier League prior to the top two showdown, and they still are. United, however, are playing catch up after the unsung hero of the front line – James Weir – provided the goal to separate the sides in a 1-0 victory for Warren Joyce’ side.
United push on from the start
United’s lethal striker Will Keane, who bagged a brace in the previous game, could’ve sent the home side at Leigh Sports Village in front after only six minutes of play, as Josh Harrop used his excellent passing range to set him up, but the front man miscontrolled it and the opportunity went to nothing.
Not long after, James Weir was knocking on the door as well, coming in from the left, chasing Pereira’s excellent through-ball, but the former Preston North End midfielder was closely called off for offside.
Sunderland on a rare visit
At the other end, Sunderland’s striker of French origin, Mikael Mandron, who qualifies to play for Scotland on international level through a grandparent, wanted to take part as well. The 21-year-old cut in from the right, was chased by Ro-Shaun Williams, and his distant effort went well clear of the target.
Belgian brillance – despite no goal
Twenty minutes into it, Adnan Januzaj got the spectators on the edge of their seats, igniting a really bright period for United. Taking on a defender excellently through a magnificent touch, having his effort blocked to a corner, he went to take it himself and rattled the post, catching the goalkeeper by surprise.
Immediately after, Riley overlapped Pereira wide left, cut it back for Weir, who chipped it towards Will Keane’s top tier, but the striker was unable to get to it, and the opener was yet to come.
Adnan Januzaj has a great record against the Black Cats, with a hat-trick against Sunderland at Old Trafford in the U21 league last season, and a brace at Wearside back in October 2013 in the Premier League. After about half an hour of play, he desperately wanted to add to it, after sprinting two thirds of the length of the pitch after Willock knocked it into his path, but instead of cutting it back for one of his teammates, he delivered a finish stripped of menace.
Not long after, the Belgium international was close to duplicate what teammate Andreas Pereira did earlier in the season – scoring straight from a corner. Januzaj curled it towards the near post, and it was only Liam Agnew’s forehead who denied him a reason to celebrate.
Keane comes close, but not close enough
On the doorsteps of the half-time break, United delivered another shot on target, being signed by Will Keane. The striker volleyed it accurately out wide to Januzaj, who advanced into the attacking third before returning a floated cross. Keane chested it down to pull the trigger, but it simply wasn’t sufficient to fool Max Stryjek in the Sunderland net.
Bizarre incident almost turns out costly
Sunderland could’ve been handed an easy goal after about an hour of play, when Pereira charged out to catch a high ball in fromt of Mandron. However, the man with the gloves suddenly foud himself on the wrong side of the penalty area, and had to kick it a few times in the air to get it back under control.
Parking the bus?
At this point, the guests, managed by Andy Welsh, were doing a great job in terms of sitting back and containing, denying the likes of Pereira and Januzaj the sufficient time and space despite enjoying lots of possession. Just like the match-winner Weir stated in the post-match interview, «it was a hard and competitive game.»
However, United managed to get a reasonably huge chance. Joe Riley, the left back, cut in centrally, found Will Keane in the box, who was dispossessed, but the ball ended up at Januzaj’s feet. Max Stryjek, however, managed to deny him once again.
Keane puts his assisting boots on
Will Keane got the opportunity to finish off an attack himself later, after being set up by Josh Harrop’s sublime long-passing ability, but the finish just wasn’t good enough.
Keane, however, was enjoying a central role when the dominance of possession finally yielded a pay-off for United. Willock found him with a smart pass, and a single touch by Keane set up James Weir, who caught the defender and the keeper on the wrong foot subsequently, before he sidefooted it into the back of the net to break the deadlock!
Love from above
Fifteen minutes from time, Sunderland however were extremely close to level the score. Reece Greenwood was able to sneak in behind Varela’s back, chasing an aerial through-ball, he cut it back for Mandron, who probably already had started figuring out which celebration to pull off. Donald Love, however, had different plans, and despite not even facing the ball, he was able to get his body in the way just on the goalline, to see the ball deflect wide.
Januzaj had a few attempts towards the end of the game, but was unable to add to his great record against Sunderland, and additionally Will Keane got a chace late on, after being set up by Pereira.
Debutant almost sees goalkeeper goal
In added time there were basically two things to take note of. The midfielder Scott McTominay, who turned 19 in December, replaced Adnan Januzaj, to get his U21 debut, although he didn’t actually do much.
Additionally, Sunderland got a free-kick late on, seeing Max Stryjek entering the United box in an attempt to get a headline-grabbing equaliser, but it didn’t materialise. Instead, Will Keane and Donald Love engineered a counter-attack, but the inaccurate cross of the right back blew the chance to put the game to bed.
Reds on the chase
This means that red shirts and white shorts are only three points behind red and white striped shirts within the top two of the table, with three games in hand. The goal difference is equal as well, both sides being on +16. Next Monday, United will take on Everton in an attempt to close the gap, but that’s only possible if Chelsea clinch the three points against Sunderland the day before.
Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland
MUFC: Weir 69 | SAFC:
Manchester United: J. Pereira – Varela, Williams, Love, Riley – Januzaj (McTominay 90+1), Willock, Harrop, Weir – A. Pereira – W. Keane
Subs: Rothwell, Henderson (GK), Rashford, McTominay, El Fitouri
Sunderland: Stryjek – Matthew, Agnew, Brady, T. Robson – Lawson, Reading, Smith, Greenwood – E. Robson (Molyneux 80) – Mandron
Subs: McEvoy, Talbot (GK), Casey, Molyneux, Nelson