Anthony Pilkington's header just before the hour mark was the outstanding moment of quality in a game largely conducted at a sluggish tempo, while the hosts' well-drilled defence restricted United to a handful of half-chances.
Robin van Persie had the Reds' best openings, but even the prolific Dutchman had to feed off scraps on an evening when little went right for the visitors, who now sit a point behind reigning champions Manchester City.
As expected, Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans missed the trip to Norfolk through injury, while David De Gea was a surprise omission as he recovered from having his wisdom teeth removed earlier this week.
Anders Lindegaard deputised in goal, while Chris Smalling continued in central defence and Sir Alex Ferguson made good of his vow to start Javier Hernandez up front, just ahead of van Persie.
The Dutchman was quickly involved in the play, taking little more than two minutes to force John Ruddy into an alert save with a low, curling effort from just outside the area. Collectively, United's early play carried plenty of intent, with the hosts penned back but quick to look for counter-attacks.
The first such break emerged after eight minutes, as Robert Snodgrass intelligently released Pilkington, only for the winger to fire comfortably wide of the target after diligent covering from Antonio Valencia.
A Young free-kick from distance prompted a straightforward save from Ruddy and Wesley Hoolahan's 25-yard effort received similar treatment from Lindegaard, before Patrice Evra almost completely missed a free header from Young's pinpoint corner.