Ricky Sbragia’s Manchester United Under-23 side climbed off the foot of the Premier League 2 Division One table on Friday evening, thanks to a hard-fought point against local rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Campus.
It looked like it was going to be a tough night for the Reds when Blues winger Luke Bolton crossed perfectly for front man Lorenzo Gonzalez to fire the hosts ahead after just four minutes.
Ironically, City’s opener followed quickly behind a piece of magic from Tahith Chong, who left a couple of City’s defenders in his wake as he sprinted upfield. Unfortunately, the threat petered out and moments later the home supporters were celebrating that early goal by Gonzalez.
The Blues were certainly dominating the opening exchanges and Gonzalez could have doubled his tally and the home side's lead when he raced clear in the 17th minute, but his shot went straight into Kieran O’Hara’s hands.
Gonzalez, City’s no.9, was proving to be something of a handful and he got behind United’s defence again but the Reds recovered quickly enough to snuff out the danger.
Ethan Hamilton’s grass-cutting shot raised hopes that the visitors might grab an equaliser and while that attempt squirmed just past the wrong side of the post, United were indeed level by half-time.
As the game entered added time, the Reds were awarded a free-kick close to the touchline on the left wing. Callum Gribbin placed the ball down and then, with his trusty left foot, he curved a terrific cross into the area where Boonen got above the Blues' defence to head firmly into the net past goalkeeper Daniel Grimshaw.
City shuffled their pack after the break to make two substitutions, but it was that man Gonzalez who almost put the Blues back in the lead only to see his shot go narrowly wide.
Remarkably, just a couple of minutes later, United’s goalscorer Boonen looked odds-on to grab his second of the night until City’s Demeaco Duhaney made a miraculous clearance from the line. And there was another let-off for the Blues when Zachary Dearnley’s drive failed to hit the target by a matter of inches.
As the chances started to pile up, O'Hara made a great save to prevent Ian Paveda recapturing the lead for City and to preserve a point that could yet have an important impact.
United: O’Hara; Riley, Williams R-S., Borthwick-Jackson, O’Connor; Redmond, Hamilton; Dearnley (Kehinde 85), Gribbin, Chong; Boonen.
Substitutes not used: Warren, Richardson, Ercolani, Whelan.