Derby County’s Under-23s extended their unbeaten run to three games with a 1-1 draw against Manchester United in Premier League 2 - Division 1 on Friday night.
Derby went into the fixture after back-to-back wins, 6-0 against Blackburn Rovers in the league before the international break and 2-1 in the Premier League Cup at home to Reading earlier this week, and they were full value for their point against the Red Devils.
After a goalless first half at Loughborough University Stadium, Derby took the lead five minutes into the second half as striker Bartosz Cybulksi found the net from close range to round off a slick attacking move.
United hit back to equalise, however, through Charlie McNeil with 70 minutes played to earn the visitors a share of the spoils as the Rams’ Under-23s recorded their first league draw of the season.
Derby’s starting XI included experienced first-team goalkeeper David Marshall, while midfielder Louie Sibley was also named in the side in order to get match minutes under his belt after a spell on the bench for Wayne Rooney’s side in recent weeks.
Louie Watson, Dylan Williams, Isaac Hutchinson and Osazee Aghatise, who all have played for the Rams’ first-team this season, were also named in the starting line-up by Under-23s boss Pat Lyons.
United’s side included former Rams loanee Teden Mengi, who made nine appearances for Rooney’s side in a loan spell during the second half of last term.
The game started at a steady pace and United had the first attempt at goal with 13 minutes on the clock. Charlie Wellens let fly from distance, but Rams skipper Eiran Cashin managed to deflect his effort wide for a corner.
Derby came close to opening the scoring themselves just two minutes later through Sibley. The lively attacking midfielder found space on the edge of the box and powered a low effort goalwards with his left foot which Dermot Mee in the United goal did well to get a hand to at the expense of a corner.
That was the best chance of what proved to be an evenly contested opening 45 minutes with clear opportunities few and far between. Although both sides had spells of possession, which saw them work their way into good attacking areas, the final ball and cutting edge was lacking when needed.
Lyons made a change at the break as Under-18s midfielder Darren Robinson, still 16 and in his first year as a scholar after signing from Northern Ireland outfit Dungannon Swifts, replaced Aghatise.
Derby came out of the traps strongly at the start of the second half and they took the lead five minutes into the half following a slick passing move down the right-hand side.
Hutchinson and Sibley linked up well to pick out the run of Max Bardell in space as the Rams made inroads into the attacking third. The right-back drove into the United area before crossing low for Cybulski to guide the ball into the net for his second goal of the campaign.
The goal was a reward for Cybulski’s tireless work leading the line throughout the campaign and his first in the league at Under-23 level, having previously netted 11 times for the Under-18s in 26 appearances in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.
United pushed for an equaliser immediately with Alejandro Garnacho curling an effort wide and Bjorn Hardley shooting straight at Marshall in the Derby goal, while down the other end Sibley forced a stop out of Mee after cutting inside from the right-hand side to get a shot away.
The visitors levelled with 20 minutes remaining as a through-ball sent McNeil clear on goal and the former England Under-16 international kept his cool to slot the ball under Marshall.
Another Sibley effort forced Mee into a save with ten minutes left, the third time the United goalkeeper had thwarted the Derby Academy graduate, as his first-time effort from the edge of the box was pushed behind for a corner.
The United goalkeeper denied Sibley once more before the night was out, this time by pushing his dripping effort from distance over the crossbar as the clock ticked down.
Despite both sides pushing forward for a winner late on, they had to be content with a point apiece.
The result means that while Derby remain at the foot of Premier League 2 - Division 1, they are now just four points away from safety with still over half of the season remaining.
The Under-23s return to action in a week’s time when they travel south to face Arsenal on Friday 26th November (7pm kick-off), while their next home fixture is in a fortnight when they take on Chelsea at Loughborough University Stadium on Friday 3rd December (7pm kick-off).
Derby County Under-23s: Marshall, Bardell, Grewal-Pollard, Cashin (C), Williams, Watson, Aghatise (Robinson 46), I Hutchinson, Sibley, Cybulksi, Plange.
Substitutes Not Used: Foulkes (GK), R Hutchinson, Clarke, Matthews.
Manchester United Under-23s: Mee, Jurado (Mather 71), Fernandez, Mengi (C), Hardley, Svidersky, Wellens, Hansen (Mainoo 78), McNeil, Hannibal (Savage 71), Garnacho.
Substitutes Not Used: Vitek (GK), Bennett.