United bow out of the UEFA Youth League. (Reuters)
A mediocre week for Manchester United continued on Monday night as the club's Under-19 ranks crashed out of the inaugural UEFA Youth League following a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk.
A record of two wins, three losses and one draw meant that Nicky Butt's young hopefuls needed to beat their Ukrainian counterparts at the Leigh Sports Village to stand any chance of progressing to the knock out stages of the competition.
But those hopes were struck a telling blow after 77 minutes when Shakhtar's Olexander Zinchenko got on the end of an in swinging cross from the right to give the visitors the lead. With Butt, his assistant Paul Scholes and first team coach Phil Neville watching on from the bench, the young United side mounted their efforts to evoke the spirit of those United sides that so often fought back late in Europe.
It paid dividends as 18-year-old James Wilson - his side's top scorer of their European campaign with six in six - supplied Ashley Fletcher to score four minutes from time.
United had goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini to thank for making some key saves earlier in the game to stop his side falling behind early on, while Andreas Pereira and Joe Rothwell had their side's best chances before Shakthar's opener. But a point was not enough; bringing an end to a unsuccessful but educational first assault on what is now Europe's premier youth competition.
A point for the Ukrainians ensures they progress to the knock out stages as group runners up, while Real Sociedad - who inflicted a 1-0 defeat on United at home before Butt's side secured an impressive 2-0 win in Spain - top the group ahead of their final game against bottom side Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday evening.
For the rest of the home nations bar Chelsea - who have sealed their spot at the top of their group with an impressive five wins from five - their progression depends on a positive result in their final games.
In a scenario that mirrors the tension engrossing their senior counterparts, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli Under 19's find themselves separated by just three points with the Gunners on top, meaning that their progression is in their own hands ahead of their trip to Napoli.
Manchester City lie third, a point behind both CSKA Moscow and Bayern Munich. A trip to Munich suggests qualification is a big ask, but having thrashed the Germans 6-0 on their own turf, Patrick Vieira's young side will be in a confident mood.
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