Man United beat Reading 1-0 at Leigh Sports Village to maintain their 100% record at home in the u21 league this season. After a goalless first half, pressure from James Weir forced Sean Long into an own goal which proved to be the difference between the sides.
A youthful U21s squad struggled with a change in system which saw five deployed in defence. The pitch which has hosted rugby matches recently didn’t help matters and it made for a slightly disjointed first half.
After an impressive debut last week, Regan Poole joined RoShaun Williams and Timothy Fosu-Mensah in central defence with Sadiq El Fitouri and Joe Riley acting as the wing-backs in a system which had echoes of the first team set-up.
Similar to the first-team it was goalless at half time, with few clear cut chances created up front and a good performance needed from the goalkeeper, Joel Pereira, to keep the opposition out.
Weir, buoyed by his recent performances at U21s level which saw him claim a spot on the bench against Sunderland at the weekend, provided much of the attacking impetus.
Matty Willock saw a powerful shot saved by Stuart Moore. The Reading goalkeeper had to be on hand again shortly afterwards to save Marcus Rashford‘s effort, on what was the striker’s full u21s debut.
Novakovich came closest to opening the scoring. Williams played a poor pass towards Willock. The ball was collected by Reading captain, Darren Kuhl, and made it’s way to Novakovich striker beat Joel Pereira to hit the post. Fortunately the ball bounced back out and was claimed by the Swiss-born Portuguese stopper. Novakovich came close again with a header which was gathered by Pereira.
Riley had a good chance towards the end of the first half. Rashford had cut the ball back into the box. the oncoming Riley took on the shot but he powered it high and wide.
United started brighter in the second half. Willock was unlucky not to open the scoring, when he flicked the ball over the Reading defence and shot on the half-volley forcing Moore to produce a decent save. Weir also saw a chance saved by Moore before he was involved in the goal which gave United the lead.
Sean Long was forced into an own goal, after a great overlapping run from Riley was followed by a decent cross to pick out Weir in the box. The woodwork denied his initial attempt and as he went to tap in the rebound Long went with him and the ball came back off the Reading defender before finding the back of the net.
Another run from Riley almost saw the right winger-cum-left fullback break a two-year scoring drought. No one supported his driving run forward so when he was picked out by Joe Rothwell he went for goal himself but he was a pace or two ahead of where he needed to be and the angle was too difficult to test Moore.
The victory means that United stay top of the U21s Premier League Division One table with a match in hand over second placed Sunderland. The U21s next fixture will see them face Man City in a Saturday afternoon game this weekend.
Man United: J. Pereira, El Fitouri (Warren 88′), Williams, Poole, Fosu-Mensah, Riley, Willock, Redmond, Rothwell, Weir (c), Rashford (McTominay 83′).
Unused Substitutes: Henderson, Doughty, Mitchell.
Goal(s): Long OG (57′).
Man of the Match: Joe Riley.
Reading: Moore, Watson, Keown, Jules Long, Jones, Stacey, Kuhl (c), Fosu, Liburd (Husin 79′), Novakovich (Cardwell 68′).
Unused Substitutes: Ward, Osho, Rinomhoto.
Booking(s): Jules (62′).