Manchester United’s Under-21s moved to the top of the Under-21 Premier League table with a hard-fought derby victory against Manchester City.

Joe Rothwell gave the Red Devils the lead in the 16th minute after a well-worked move, and Warren Joyce’s side never looked like they were going to give up the lead for the remainder of the 90 minutes.

Bar a late spell of pressure from City, United had a comfortable night at the back and they go two points ahead of Sunderland with two games in hand, and 10 points ahead of their Blue neighbours.

A healthy crowd turned out to Leigh Sports Village to see the two sides do battle, and United’s line-up did not surprise many. With the senior side facing Sunderland at lunchtime on Saturday, there were no first-team players on show. A youthful side was put out, with Regan Poole making his first start in defensive midfield since joining last summer from Newport County.

Will Keane, fresh from putting five past Norwich on Monday night, looked to terrorise the City defence after an error put him through on goal, but his first touch was heavy and Angus Gunn smothered the chance. Keane also had a shot deflected wide as United dominated proceedings early on.

And they were rewarded for the impetus with the only goal of the game. Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s delightful through ball from the back found Keane, who calmly waited for support before placing the ball for Rothwell, who steered the ball into the bottom right corner.

Chances were few and far between for City throughout, with Tosin Adarbioyo’s header the best chance for the Blues. The Nigerian-born defender guided his header towards goal from a corner, but Joel Pereira kept it out with an acrobatic save.

The second half was a grind, with both teams getting jaded towards the end and it was City firmly in the ascendancy in the final stages. However, they failed to muster any shots of note and it was United that came away with all three points.