It’s been a season of disappointments at every level for United, but at least the Under 21s fought courageously in their ultimately unsuccessful bid to retain the Under 21 Championship. Sitting in a mid-table position in January, the young Reds put in a storming run that saw them miss out on the title only at the last hurdle. In the final, more than 13,000 fans turned up at Old Trafford to see an excellent game of football go the way of the visitors.
Chelsea had outplayed United when the two teams had met earlier in the season, but the Reds had hung on for a goalless draw. Ironically, a far better performance from the home side resulted in a less favourable result as two sides committed to attack slugged it out in a fine showcase for football at this level. United had the better of the early exchanges and, when Janko completed one of several storming runs down the right to square to Wilson in the box, it seemed the opening goal would come from a familiar source; instead, the young forward showed excellent awareness to lay the ball off for Lawrence, who curled his shot into the far corner.
Wilson almost benefitted from a defensive slip on the edge of the area shortly afterwards and, with Chelsea temporarily rattled, in retrospect a quick second goal for United might have made all the difference. Instead, the lead lasted only ten minutes before Musonda made the most of gaps in the United midfield to finish off a solo won with a finish that gave Amos no chance.
From there, Chelsea began to show the unquestioned ability that had seen them finish top of the table and Amos had to be alert on a number of occasions to prevent them taking the lead. Despite that, United were still carving out threats of their own. Pearson created the best of them when he finished off a fine run through the midfield with a shot that was smothered by Blackman but United’s hopes soon turned sour when, moments later, Baker, who’d ballooned over the bar when presented with a golden opportunity to score, made no mistake this time, his precise shot enough to secure the win for the visitors.
It was a shame that such an absorbing game of football should then descend into nothing less than gamesmanship from several Chelsea players, whose time-wasting and feigning of injury was responded to in the right way by the referee, who added on four minutes of stoppage time and then extended that when their amateur dramatics went beyond the ninety minutes. With Amos spending the bulk of the remaining minutes in the opposition penalty area, United pushed for an equaliser and almost had one when substitute Tyler Blackett produced a blistering shot that Blackman did well to turn wide.
Ultimately, it was in vain and Chelsea walked away with the spoils. The young Reds were rightly afforded a rapturous farewell from the home crowd, who recognised their achievement in getting this far and making such a good fist of the defence of their title, especially given the young age of many of their number. The final game at Old Trafford this season might have ended in the way so many matches have this season, but supporters will have left with a real optimism that several members of this side have the ability and attitude to perform at the top level.