United’s Under-23s ensured continued involvement in the Premier League International Cup when we secured our place in the next phase with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Celtic at Leigh Sports Village.
James Wilson bagged both goals - one in each half - to clinch United’s progress and also maintain his personal record of having scored in all this season’s games in the competition.
United were defending a five-game run in which we had avoided defeat in the Premier League 2 and Premier League International Cup with an encouraging return of three wins and two draws.
Earlier victories over Swansea City and Athletic Club Bilbao meant that Ricky Sbragia’s lads were in a strong position as we approached this clash against the Glasgow giants. It was one of those miserable Mancunian days of drizzle and mist at kick-off time and it was United who made the first genuine opening, in the seventh minute, when Wilson was given a clear run at goal, but his shot, which looked destined to find its target, was diverted past the post by the fingertips of Celtic keeper Conor Hazard.
Two minutes later, Celtic were unlucky not to move into the lead when Regan Hendry’s goalbound shot took a crucial deflection off its intended destination. Callum Gribbin rattled the Celtic bar with a cracking shot and the game constantly switched from one end to the other.
Celtic certainly looked to be a decent team and the Reds had to be on their guard when the Green-and-Whites ventured up field. However, Zak Dearnley was looking to be enjoying himself on the left wing and, in the 28th minute, he instigated the move that led to United taking the lead. Dearnley and Gribbin were both involved in the build-up that ended with Wilson planting the ball into the Celtic net.
The 1,016 supporters who attended this extremely entertaining Anglo-Scottish confrontation could only be well pleased with the fare that was put before them.
The high-quality performance from both sides continued into the second half and, with 10 minutes remaining, it appeared that defender Wallace Duffy had claimed an equaliser for Celtic, but the assistant referee's flag was already fluttering in the breeze to disallow it.
The impressive Dearnley was in the thick of the action, in the 82nd minute, when he threaded through a beautiful forward pass to Wilson, who coolly collected the before depositing it neatly past Hazard.
United had one scare to survive in the last minute when Celtic’s Ewan Henderson spotted Kieran O’Hara well off his line and attempted an audacious attempt from fully 65 yards. O’Hara was beaten but the ball squirmed inches past his right-hand post.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable 90-plus minutes of football that continued right up until the referee’s final whistle, with United safely through to the knockout stages.
United: O’Hara; Riley, Olosunde, Tuanzebe, Mitchell; Gribbin (Buffonge 84), Scott, Sang, Dearnley (Whelan 89); Kehinde; Wilson. Substitutes not used: Johnstone, Barrett, Kenyon.