Premier League 2 | Leigh Sports Village | Scorers: Buffonge 10, Gomes 53 (pen), Burkart 78 | Mooney 11
Manchester United kicked off the home campaign in Premier League 2 with a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa.
DJ Buffonge's early opener was almost immediately cancelled out by Kelsey Mooney but further strikes in the second half, from an Angel Gomes penalty and substitute Nishan Burkart, clinched the three points for Ricky Sbragia's side in front of the watching Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.
The Reds began well with Joshua Bohui pressing Matija Sarkic and deflecting the keeper's clearance narrowly wide. In the 10th minute, Buffonge conceded possession, but then quickly won it back, and delivered a pass to Tahith Chong. A purposeful run by the Dutch youngster led to the ball breaking to Buffonge, whose deflected shot was palmed into the net, via his left-hand post, by Sarkic.
The lead was short lived, however, as Villa retaliated and drew level within 70 seconds. Mooney, son of former Watford striker Tommy, held off George Tanner and produced a lofted shot that registered his third goal of the new season, despite Matej Kovar getting a heavy touch to it.
Kovar kept out another Mooney effort, from a James Bree cross, and the big United keeper also thwarted Harry McKirdy's near-post shot, at the second attempt. At the other end, neat play by Bohui and Chong carved out an inviting opening for Ethan Hamilton but the Scot, arriving onto Chong's hooked ball back, could only head over the bar. The half-time whistle was delayed due to an injury to McKirdy, who was booked as he left the field on a stretcher for a reckless challenge on Ro-Shaun Williams.
Eight minutes after the break, Hamilton fed Chong on the right and his swift change in direction deceived Jacob Bedeau and tempted the defender into pulling his shirt and bringing the exciting wide man down. Gomes took the penalty confidently, giving Montenegrin keeper Sarkic no chance. Mooney had a couple of chances to level matters again, forcing Kovar to help a shot on the turn over the bar and then dipping a clever drive just wide.
However, United upped the tempo with Gomes really coming alive. The former Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year crossed inches away from substitute Burkart and then smacked the bar with a superb shot from the edge of the box in the 67th minute. A visionary through ball by Gomes played in Chong, only for Sarkic to race from his line to save bravely. Following that fine spell, Villa replied when Callum O'Hare flashed over a decent opportunity and Bree blasted an ambitious drive at Kovar.
The points were assured once Lee O'Connor made a positive run out of defence to spark a move that led to Gomes finding Tanner on the right flank. The full-back, as at Fulham in the opener, produced a telling cross and Burkart was on hand to rifle a razor-sharp finish high into the net for his first goal at this level.
Chong should really have added a fourth, following a set-up by Burkart, but his powerful shot hit Sarkic in the face and the ball rebounded behind for a corner. Burkart, who was impressive during his cameo off the bench, appeared to shrug off a late injury as it was a pleasing evening for the home side.
United: Kovar; Tanner, Poole, R. Williams, O’Connor; Chong, Hamilton, Barlow (Whelan 57); Buffonge, Bohui (Burkart 65), Gomes (Sang 82). Subs not used: Fojticek, Warren.
The Under-23s' next outing in Premier League 2 takes place against Southampton at Staplewood Training Ground on Friday 24 August.