With five teams still harbouring realistic aims of winning an astonishingly close Under 21 League at the start of the day, United gave starts to Phil Jones and Adnan Januzaj in this must-win game against Southampton at Leigh. Liverpool had gone top with a win against Leicester, in the process realistically ending the Foxes’ title hopes. United duly secured the win, but only after some late scares from visitors who put behind them a poor opening period to pose some real threats in the second half and were only denied a late equaliser by a fine save from Ben Amos.
The Saints beat United earlier in the season, but their form since then has been poor at this level and the Reds dominated the early stages, almost going ahead within three minutes when Fletcher headed a Grimshaw cross against the bar. United continued to look the likelier side to take the lead, however, and it was Fletcher who atoned for that early miss when he latched onto an excellent deep ball from Jones to put the Reds one up.
Jones almost added to the goal himself when his header was saved at close range by Southampton keeper Britt. Although the visitors increased their share of possession marginally later in the half, United were cruising in third gear at this point and will have been disappointed only to go in one up at half-time.
With Southampton pushing further forward in the second half, they began to look more than capable of making a contest of it and Barnes gave United a scare when he shot narrowly wide just after the hour mark. Even closer calls were to come for the Reds as, within minutes, both Gallagher and Hesketh hit the United bar.
Britt was stretchered off in the closing stages with what looked a serious injury while, at the other end, Amos was forced to make a flying save from McQueen in the final minute of injury time as United hung on to a vital three points. The Reds now face back to back games against city, who remain in contention themselves, to close out what was been an enthralling season at Under 21 level.