Barclays U-21 Premier League
Monday 10 December
Hinckley United FC, De Montfort Park
ASTON VILLA U21 0
MANCHESTER UNITED U21 2
(Bebe 53, Macheda 88)
United posted a 2-0 win at Aston Villa to clinch a place in the Barclays Under-21 Premier League elite phase.
Warren Joyce’s side needed to win the final group game to qualify – either via the top two or the best third-placed side depending on how Villa fare in their final fixture – with Bebe and Federico Macheda conjuring up the goals in the second half.
It was no more than the Reds deserved for a fine performance after the break and Macheda’s late second ensured there was no route back for the Midlanders.
Villa were the brighter side in a low-key start with Danny Johnson firing wide and Graham Burke returning Jonny Sutherland’s loose kick-out with interest but the ball deflected behind the goal.
Mason Watkins-Clark was relieved to only receive a yellow card after a wild tackle on Davide Petrucci as things were rather scrappy in a tussle mainly played out in midfield. Villa’s first-team boss Paul Lambert moved to the bench to offer advice to Gordon Cowans and Sutherland had to scamper to keep out a Burke shot from a difficult angle.
United struggled to test Calum Barrett as Petrucci mishit a shot wide after some delightful skill before Ryan Tunnicliffe’s inspiring run could not find a finish from Macheda in the middle due to Bradley Lewis’ last-ditch tackle.
A Macheda cross looped off Watkins-Clark and over his own bar and the same player was later grateful to Barrett for keeping out another deflection. Tom Thorpe and Michael Drennan traded off-target efforts but it was no real surprise that the first half ended goalless.
Alexander Büttner failed to reappear due to injury, with Sean McGinty taking his place, and the Reds started to reach top gear after the break. It only took eight minutes for Bebe to break the deadlock by profiting from a fierce tackle and some good work by Marnick Vermijl to drive at the defence and lash a powerful drive past Barrett.
Buoyed by making the breakthrough, United assumed almost complete control and Bebe was only denied a second strike five minutes later by a post after showing his strength to work an opening from an acute angle. Macheda teed up Nick Powell but Barrett saved smartly and, after Petrucci fired over, the points should have been made secure. Bebe fed Macheda and the Italian did superbly to unselfishly tee up Larnell Cole but the midfielder’s left-footed shot from close range came back off the right-hand post with the goal gaping.
Proceedings fell a little flat again after the dominant spell for the visitors, which became a concern with such a slender lead, and McGinty needed to make an important clearance when the back-four initially failed to deal with a Johnson through-ball.
Joyce introduced Michele Fornasier for goalscorer Bebe in the closing stages as the Reds looked to maintain a clean sheet that would bring the vital three points. Yet a threat remained at the other end and Petrucci should have done better when lashing wide from a promising position following a Cole cross.
The Italian playmaker soon atoned by unlocking the defence with a cute pass through to Macheda and the Under-21s’ top scorer threw a neat dummy before blasting past Barrett for his eighth of the campaign, continuing a good run of goalscoring form in his career against the Villans.
The result means Joyce and his squad can look forward to competing at the highest level of second-tier football after the turn of the year with a Lancashire Senior Cup tie against Morecambe still to come in 2012.
United: Sutherland; Vermijl, Thorpe, Wootton, Büttner (McGinty 46); Bebe (Fornasier 84), Tunnicliffe, Powell (Veseli 90), Petrucci, Cole; Macheda. Subs not used: Gollini, Lawrence.