Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United's dramatic fightback against Manchester City in the Charity Shield proves he was right to put his faith in a youth revolution.
Ferguson's side came from two goals down to beat arch rivals City at Wembley on Sunday despite fielding a second-half line-up with an average age of just 22. United trailed to goals from Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko at half-time and Ferguson's response was to send on Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Jonny Evans in place of senior stars Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick.
Jones, 19 and Cleverley, 21 joined fellow youngsters Chris Smalling, 21, Danny Welbeck, 20, and David De Gea, 20, for a classic second half revival as Ferguson's team showed that United's habit of snatching late winners has been passed onto a new generation. Smalling started the comeback with a close-range volley and Nani equalised by capping a sublime one-touch move involving Cleverley and Wayne Rooney with a cool finish.
United got their reward for a vibrant display when Nani grabbed the winner with virtually the last kick of the match after a mistake from City defender Vincent Kompany. It was the perfect morale boost seven days before United kick off their Premier League title defence at West Bromwich Albion and Ferguson was delighted to see so many young prodigies leading the way.
"For us it just confirms what I thought about the squad. People were saying it's not the best United squad but you have to remember a lot of young players will improve," Ferguson said. "I always wanted to expose Jones, Cleverley and Evans to that big-match environment. It was a big challenge for them and they did well.
"I'm very confident with this group of players. De Gea and Jones give us a good future. They are outstanding. (Ashley) Young was good as well. He is 25 and a mature player after playing for Aston Villa but he's new to the type of challenge he is getting at United."
Ferguson believes Cleverley has benefitted from a loan spell at Wigan last season and the diminutive England Under-21 midfielder showed glimpses of a talent that reminded some of the recently retired Paul Scholes. Welbeck, who picked up an ankle knock that may stop him playing for England in midweek, looks a more dynamic force since his loan spell at Sunderland last season and he linked up well with United wingers Nani and Ashley Young.
"Cleverley has come back from Wigan and we brought Welbeck and (Mame) Diouf back from loans as well. These boys are good players," Ferguson said. "We toyed with the idea of starting Cleverley but I thought Michael Carrick's experience was better suited to the game. Cleverley can get forward from midfield though and we probably needed that type of player."
Although Ferguson's gleeful celebration of Nani's winner underlined his delight at beating City in the annual curtain-raiser to the English season, he knows Roberto Mancini's men will be among several strong challengers for the title.
"I trust my players and have confidence in their ability but you can never be confident of success in the Premier League," he said. "It is such a difficult league, six teams could be challenging for the title. We know from experience of getting through title-winning seasons what a difficult league it is."
The only negative of an uplifting day for United was new goalkeeper David De Gea's part in City's two goals. He failed to come off his line for the first and was beaten too easily from long-range for the second, but the Spaniard shrugged off the mistakes.
"The two goals we conceded in the first half stopped us in our tracks but in the second half we were able to claw back and I think that's the important thing," De Gea said.