The Under 21s began the defence of their championship away at Leicester City, whose side featured ex-Reds Jack Barmby and Tom Lawrence, and weathered early pressure to share the points at the King Power Stadium.
Leicester had the best of the early chances and Joel Pereira was called upon to make a couple of smart saves. It was no surprise when the home side took the lead, although the goal was a disappointing one to give away from United’s point of view. A rash challenge from Love on Ulloa brought a free kick that was floated, apparently harmlessly, into the area. However, Ashley Fletcher got his head to it and succeeded only in deflecting the ball into his own net.
At that point it looked like only Pereira stood between the Reds and a hiding. However, a superb individual goal from Varela put United back in it. The Uruguayan picked up the ball on the right and took it into the Leicester area, finishing his run with a perfectly placed left footed shot that brought what had looked an unlikely equaliser.
The goal changed the game and United carried more of a threat from that point on. Weir was close to getting to a through ball but Maddison was first to the ball and the Leicester keeper was worked again by a Harrop shot from the edge of the area.
The second half continued to be an even, and generally somewhat scrappy, affair. Willock came close for United, but his shot was well saved by Maddison and, with United pressing in the later stages, Fletcher blazed one half-chance wide and the other high. In the last moments of the game, however, Pereira had to produce another fine save to tip over a free kick from McCourt and prevent Leicester from snatching a late winner.
It was a tough early challenge for the young Reds, who now wait over a month for their second fixture, another potentially testing fixture away at Chelsea.