Livewire attacker Nicky Ajose put his skill and pace to deadly use to earn United a point away to Sunderland in the season’s penultimate match - a draw that guarantees second spot in Group C of the Premier Academy League behind runaway winners Manchester City.
The U18s have been good value lately. And while eight goals conceded in three games will frustrate boss Paul McGuinness, he can have nothing but admiration for the way his young players attack.
The Reds went behind after nine minutes when Sunderland’s Matthew Fletcher's shot deflected off Oliver Norwood to deceive Conor Devlin. But United quickly searched for an equaliser and Sunderland's keeper Michal Misiewicz was in for a busy half.
It wasn't until three minutes after the break that the equaliser arrived, but it was worth it. Ajose beat two defenders with quick feet inside the area, before lifting the ball past Misiewicz, and the Bury-born winger struck again on 57 minutes, racing onto a searching forward ball and lobbing the onrushing keeper, a goal which makes Ajose join-top scorer with Norwood on nine for the season.
Cameron Stewart nearly grabbed another when his header struck a post, but after that Sunderland cranked up the heat. And, just when United’s youngsters thought they’d done enough to survive the late onslaught, Sunderland levelled four minutes from time.
United: Devlin; Moffatt (Thorpe 18), Brown, Wootton, Dudgeon; Stewart, Norwood,
James, Ajose; King, Brandao.
Subs not used: Gorre, Barmby.