Scott Wootton's early strike was enough to earn victory in United's first-ever Under-21 league match at Stoke City as Darren Fletcher played the full 90 minutes to continue his bid for full fitness.
The Reds had to survive a couple of scares but only some wayward finishing prevented the three points from being wrapped up as there were plenty of signs that this could be another successful season for Warren Joyce's charges.
Stoke included four over-aged players in their line-up and almost went ahead on four minutes when one of them, Mamady Sidibe, rattled the bar after Andrew Musungu got the better of Michael Keane. Yet United were also swiftly into top gear as the impressive Tyler Blackett whipped in a cross that really should have been converted by Joshua King, who instead headed wide.
A minute later, some neat build-up work involving Jesse Lingard and Ryan Tunnicliffe led to Wootton looping a shot over Carlo Nash and into the net via the far post for a goal that seemed to surprise everybody at the Weaver Stadium.
King was a real threat virtually all game but could not apply a finishing touch to his powerful approach play. The Norwegian forced a diving save out of Nash and shot wildly off target when teed up by Blackett. The striker then fed Davide Petrucci but the Italian's finish was blocked by Ben Heneghan.
Sam Johnstone was in top form at the other end, making two great stops to thwart Musungu and the same player dragged a glorious opening wide before the interval while King also scooped another attempt off target.
Stoke improved in the second half and had a goal harshly ruled out for offside when Abu-Bakarr Kargbo rounded Johnstone to find the net on 51 minutes while Jordan Richardson and Diego Arismendi spurned two chances in quick succession.
A rare opening for United was wasted when King headed straight at Nash after Wootton galloped down the right and delivered an inviting cross and Larnell Cole hammered a speculative effort well over the top. Wootton continued to enjoy moving forward and could not convert a difficult aerial opportunity after Fletcher dug out a cross from the right.