SHEFFIELD United failed in their quest to lift the FA Youth Cup but emerged with their reputations enhanced and pride intact.
John Pemberton, the visitors’ academy director, warned football can be a cruel business after leading his team into the final for the first time in their history.
And so it proved as, despite competing as equals for long periods, United found themselves on the wrong end of a scoreline which failed to reflect their contribution to another entertaining contest between these two rivals.
David did not beat Goliath but did succeed in giving him one hell of a scare.
Manchester United, lifting the trophy for an astonishing 10th time, appeared to be coasting to a comfortable victory when Ravel Morrison scored either side of Will Keane’s penalty.
However Pemberton’s protegees, encouraged and cajoled by the excellent Jordan Slew, reduced the deficit courtesy of Joe Ironside’s cool finish with a little over a quarter of an hour remaining.
Hopes of a comeback were dashed when Keane completed his brace on the counter-attack but United, who had earlier seen Harry Maguire carried off the pitch on a stretcher, richly deserved the applause they received from both the home and travelling fans.
Pemberton - who, despite his claims to the contrary, would almost certainly jump at the chance of filling the managerial vacancy at Bramall Lane - is among a new generation of coaches determined to change the face of the modern game.
But traditionalists in the crowd at Old Trafford last night will have been comforted by the fact that over half of the players who started the contest hail from the locality of their respective clubs.
One of those, Morrison, was instrumental in leading Manchester United to victory having broken the deadlock eight minutes before the interval before dispatching another assured finish midway through the second period.
But it was Paul Pogba, a midfielder plucked from the relative obscurity of Le Havre, who was the driving force behind their triumph
For United, having been relegated from the Championship, it is a particularly encouraging state of affairs given that Kevin McCabe, their plc chairman, warns they will be forced to rely heavily on home grown talent next term.
Slew and Maguire recently forced themselves into first-team contention while Elliott Whitehouse and Callum McFadzean furthered their claims with tenacious displays against illustrious opponents.
Having admitted they had started the first leg in uncharacteristically tentative fashion, Pemberton’s greatest fear during United’s journey across the Pennines was that the occasion - not to mention location - would weigh heavily on his charges’00 shoulders.
Gyliano van Velzen and Pogba, hugely impressive during last week’s first leg, looked to exploit any fragile nerves during the early skirmishes with the latter seeing a free-kick deflected wide by Matthew Harriott.
But a superb 15th minute move which saw Slew come within a whisker of opening the scoring, signalled United’s arrival. Callum McFadzean and Aaron Barry combined well along the flank and when the Dubliner delivered a tantalising cross into the box, Slew expertly controlled before fizzing a low drive just past the foot of the post.
Goalkeeper Sam Johnston was rooted to the spot.
United captain Elliott Whitehouse blasted another opportunity into the Stretford End from long range but Manchester United struck back when, moments later, only a sprawling save from George Long prevented Morrison from edging Paul McGuinness’ side in front.
Again Pogba was the architect.
United, though, showed no indication of being overawed. Indeed, Manchester United needed a huge slice of fortune to break their resolve towards the end of an otherwise evenly matched first half.
Michael Keane’s rampaging run from deep prised apart the South Yorkshire club’s rearguard and when his twin brother Will fluffed his lines from 10 yards out, the ball fell kindly for Morrison who promptly smashed it home beyond the helpless Long. United responded with the kind of belligerence which had so impressed the watching Sir Alex Ferguson seven days ago only to fall two behind just moments before the break when Will Keane converted from the spot following Terry Kennedy’s handball.
Maguire was carried from the field after falling awkwardly following an aerial challenge but Slew, causing Manchester United’s back four all manner of problems, brought the away supporters to their feet with another surge only for Michele Fornasier to intervene.
Another superb display of power and poise, which left three defenders trailing in his wake, brought the best out of Johnstone soon after.
Morrison pounced again before Ironside, sent scampering through by Slew, pulled one back. Keane, though, twisted the knife when United pressed for a second.
MANCHESTER UNITED: Johnstone, M Keane, McGinty, Thorpe, Fornaiser, Tunnicliffe, Lingard (Cole 78), Pogba, Morrison (Cofie 90), van Velzen (Blackett 84). Not used: Coll, Massacci.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long, Montgomery, Barry, Harriott, Maguire (Pomares 57), Kennedy, Gregory (Martin 67), Whitehouse, Ironside (Wilkinson 76), Slew, McFadzean. Not used: Willis, Ahmadi.
Goals: Morrison (37, 69), W Keane (45, 82) for Man Utd, Ironside (73) for Sheff Utd.
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).