A brace from Zion Dixon was not enough for Derby County's Under-18s to secure their first home victory of the season on Saturday as they drew 2-2 with Manchester United at Moor Farm Training Ground.
Goalkeeper Harvey Randle was on top form for Derby, but he could not stop a second-half comeback from the Red Devils as the young Rams’ winless run was extended to five games despite a much-improved overall performance.
Derby started the game positively with a high press when out of possession to try and stop the visitors from playing out from the back.
The game's first real chance resulted in a goal as some excellent play between Ola Ibrahim and Bayo Fapetu on the edge of the box created an opportunity to shoot for the latter.
Fapetu’s shot was blocked, but the ball fell fortuitously for Dixon, who smashed the ball home from close range to open the scoring.
The Under-18s settled into a more defensive shape as United retained the ball well and looked to play through the thirds quickly in search of an equaliser.
Randle made several good saves in the first half to keep the visitors out – firstly getting his fingertips on the ball to stop Alejandro Garnacho’s wicked free-kick from flying into the roof of the net.
Garnacho was then denied an equalising goal again moments later. This time, some last-ditch defending from Darren Robinson stopped the United forward in his tracks as he stormed into the Derby penalty area with the ball.
There was then some more great defending, this time from Rhys Brailsford, as he got his body in the way of a shot destined for the goal with Randle out of position, as the ball was cut back from the right.
United continued to push as Derby dropped deeper, with Randle making a couple of saves to deny Ethan Ennis, who was finding some joy down the right-hand side for the visitors.
The hosts survived the onslaught and caused a few chances of their own late in the half. A brilliant run down the right from wing-back Callum Moore created the best opening, with his cutback just evading Fapetu but rolling to Riley Moloney, whose goal-bound effort was blocked.
After demonstrating late in the first that they could go toe-to-toe with their opponents, the Under-18s came out with more confidence and scored a second goal just five minutes into the second period.
Dixon again provided the crucial finish after some great pressing high up the field from Fapetu gave the forward a one-on-one with the United goalkeeper, which he converted to give Robinson’s side breathing room.
However, United were never out of the game, as the chances kept flowing despite trailing by two goals, with Garnacho striking the post as he breezed past the Derby defence merely minutes after the second goal went in.
The visitors kept pushing, but the young Rams could have had a third when Sam Sebagabo played in Moore to shoot; however, Radek Vitek in the United goal was equal to his strong effort.
Randle continued the second half as he ended the first, pulling off some more brilliant saves – the pick of the bunch coming from a Sam Mather free-kick which was destined for the top right corner, yet the Derby goalkeeper was there to claw the ball away from goal.
The hosts were two goals ahead with just 15 minutes to play, although the pressure from United continued and forced a costly mistake from Robinson, whose last-ditch challenge in the area was deemed to be too strong as the referee pointed to the spot.
Manni Norkett converted the spot-kick, which set up a frantic finish at Moor Farm. The Under-18s defended well for the ten minutes after the first goal, but a quick break from United created another opening for Ennis, whom this time converted to level the game with just two minutes of normal time left.
At the end of the game, the pressure rose to a boiling point for Garnacho, who was sent off for a second bookable offence; however, there was too little time left for it to affect the result, as United held out for the draw.
Derby County Under-18s: Randle, Moore, Moloney, Robinson, Brailsford, Cox, Fapetu, Hawkins (Nicholas-Davies 73’), Dixon (Kelly-Caprani 60’), Sebagabo, Ibrahim
Substitutes Not Used: Aideyan, Price, Robinson