MANCHESTER UNITED punished two first-half defensive errors to claim three points in their Barclays U21 Premier League clash away at Everton.
The visitors opened the scoring on a cold night at Southport’s Merseyrail Community Stadium through top scorer James Wilson and should have been 2-0 up, but Liam Grimshaw missed a golden opportunity to put his team ahead.
They then pulled further ahead on the stroke of half time, as centre back Paddy McNair turned the ball into the net after goalkeeper Russell Griffiths vacated his goal to attempt to punch clear a free kick.
David Unsworth’s Everton tried to make a comeback in the second half, but they only managed to halve United’s lead with a Jonjoe Kenny penalty.
Everton had a horror start to the game and should have been 1-0 down inside two minutes, as Grimshaw dispossessed a faltering George Green, only to have his one-on-one effort well saved by Griffiths.
United kept up their early pressure and it soon told. Brendan Galloway, playing left back for the evening, stumbled on the ball allowing Andreas Pereira a path to goal. And though his initial shot was saved well by Griffiths, the goalkeeper couldn’t prevent James Wilson turning in the rebound.
With the visitors ahead, Everton slowly began to improve and went close through Ryan Ledson, whose shot fizzed just over the bar.
The game then disappeared into some sort of obscurity for 20 minutes, until Galloway went close to redeeming himself, but he slid the ball just past the post.
But Everton couldn’t keep the deficit at just a single goal, and United doubled their advantage on the stroke of half time thanks to another mishap.
It was Griffiths at fault this time as he rushed out of his goal to punch clear a free kick, but he instead ran into a defender, and the ball fell to Paddy McNair on the edge of the area enabling the Irishman to loop the ball into a virtually empty net.
Griffiths was at the centre of the action yet again just seconds after the restart, but he just about managed to scuff the ball away to safety under heavy pressure from Pereira.
But Everton did manage one goal, as captain Kenny swept a spot kick past Anders Lindegaard after Andy Kellett handled in the box.
The result sees United remain in first place above Southampton, while Everton slip into ninth and fall seven points off the pace in the title race.
Everton U21: Griffiths (GK), Kenny, Galloway, Walsh (Dowell, 54’), Distin, Browning, Junior, Ledson, Henen, Green (Donohue, 88’), Jones Subs: Hunt (GK), Lundstram, Dowell, Connolly, Donohue
Scorers: Kenny (87’)
Manchester United U21: Lindegaard (GK), Love, McNair, Thorpe, Kellett, Goss, Grimshaw, Rothwell, Wilson (Harrop, 40’), Pereira, Januzaj Subs: O’Hara (GK), Harrop, Willock, Weir, Evans
Scorers: Wilson (8’), McNair (46’)
Bookings: Love (51’)
Referee: Thomas Bramhall (Derbyshire)