Jack Rudge and James Wilson reduced a three-goal deficit in the final 13 minutes but the Reds returned home pointless despite a splendid finale to the game. Pierluigi Gollini, an Italian signed from Fiorentina, made his debut in goal but was beaten after only four minutes by a Karim Rossi shot just inside area.
With an hour gone, Rossi got on the end of a free-kick to the far post and headed home from close range to double his tally and the lead. When Kris Scott buried a right-foot finish 10 minutes later, it looked like the Reds would be on the end of a convincing beating.
However, Paul McGuinness' side were like a different team with Rudge pulling one back following a cross by Wilson. There was hope of a reverse of the last league game against Sunderland, when a three-goal lead was lost, when Gyliano van Velzen came through the inside-right channel and forced a cracking save out of Dale Eve with Wilson pouncing on the rebound from close range.
Late pressure failed to yield an equaliser as Eve made a superb stop to deny van Velzen and Wilson was inches away from snatching a point in stoppage time when his shot looked bound for the net but drifted just wide of the target.
United: Gollini; Wilkinson (Grimshaw 65), Ioannou, McCullough, Blackett; Gorre (Daehli 46), Ekangamene, Hendrie (Rudge 65), Pearson, van Velzen; Wilson. Subs not used: Coll.