Charles Vernam’s double was not enough for Derby County’s Under 23s as Manchester United struck a late on to edge out 3-2 winners at Old Trafford.
The Rams found themselves having to fight back on two occasions in the match after Scott McTominay broke the deadlock, before Joshua Harrop scored from the penalty spot.
Vernam scored two headers – one in each half – as he maintained his strong personal start to the season, but McTominay struck with four minutes remaining to seal all the points for last season’s Under 21 champions.
The forward bagged his first goal of the contest after Manchester United quickly got themselves on top in this Premier League 2 Division 1 contest as they peppered Henrich Ravas’ goal over a strong 20-minute spell.
The lively Joe Riley was first to test his luck, shooting low after cutting inside from the left, but Derby’s Slovakian goalkeeper was equal to the tame effort at his near post.
Harrop attempted the same trick as the Rams struggled to extinguish the hosts’ early threat and the pressure soon told as they broke the deadlock on 16 minutes as McTominay rose highest to connect with a left wing cross, beating Ravas with the help of the underside of the crossbar.
Warren Joyce’s side continued to hold a firm grip of the contest as Harrop saw a deflected drive easily saved by Ravas, whilst the visitors were indebted to the woodwork just past the half hour mark as McTominay came close to grabbing a second.
Before those two chances, Vernam had looped a header from Kyron Stabana’s right wing cross over the crossbar but he had more luck with 11 minutes of the half remaining as Derby clawed themselves back level.
United failed to deal with a cross into the area and after a short period of head tennis the in-form forward rose highest to connect a firm header, which, despite the hosts’ best efforts to clear the ball, was adjudged to have crossed the line.
Level at the break, the second half was a slow burner until it burst into life with 20 minutes remaining.
There were two quick fire efforts, though – one for each side. Ravas had to be alert to keep the Rams in the game, cutting out Sadiq El Fitouri’s teasing centre before McTominay could capitalise, whilst Vernam nodded Calum Macdonald’s cross agonisingly wide at the other end.
Fifteen minutes later, and a late foul on Matthew Olosunde in the area presented the Red Devils with the chance to edge back in front – an opportunity that Harrop made no mistake with as he slammed his spot kick into the bottom left corner.
Refusing to lie down, the pendulum swung again as Derby sought a way back into the game.
Alex Cover nearly made it all square again as he smartly turned in the area and saw a low shot deflected just wide, but just two minutes later the Rams were back on level terms.
Wassall, Derby’s academy director, introduced Alefe Santos and he made an early impact as he sent a precise cross for Vernam, stooping, to head beyond O’Hara.
It looked like the Rams had done enough to pick up their first point of the campaign, but there was still one final twist in the tale as United struck a late as they threw bodies forward in a frantic finish.
McTominay was the man of the moment as he struck a low shot into the bottom corner, leaving Ravas flat-footed as United took the lead for the third time of the match.
Derby tried to reverse things once again, but Jamie Hanson was left thwarted on two occasions by O’Hara as the hosts held on to claim all the spoils at the Theatre of Dreams.
Manchester United U23s: O’Hara, Fitouri, Tuanzebe, Poole, Riley, Redmond (Olosunde, 59), Scott (Williams, 62), Willock, McTominay, Harrop, Hamilton
Substitutes not used: Moutha-Sebtaoui, Doughty, Chong
Derby County U23s: Ravas, Stabana, Wassall, Cover, Macdonald; Hanson, Gordon, Guy, Vernam; Jakobsen (Babos, 86), Walker (Santos, 67)
Substitutes not used: Yates, Marsh, SkapetisTweets by @ dcfcofficial