Man U defeated Rostove 1-0 and advanced aggresgate 2-1 to the round of eight in the Europa League.
The Daily Mail: “We can get to how Manchester United won in a moment. The Juan Mata goal, the three great saves from Sergio Romero, we’ll come to that. First off, though, here’s why they won. They won because of the away goals rule.
Not that they needed it to progress. The aggregate score here was 2-1. Yet Manchester United won what was a very tight encounter, because they scored in Rostov. This meant Rostov had to score here or they would go out.
So they couldn’t throw a blanket of defensively massed yellow shirts over the game indefinitely, as they did in the first half. Eventually, they had to start playing, they had to try to get that away goal, and that would make the match open.
And when this happened, United, as the better side, picked them off with a goal on 70 minutes. So UEFA’s system works. The best side goes through to the quarter-finals, the one with less ambition goes home to think again. We should be happy for that, at least.
And happy with how United won, too, because it really was a lovely winner, scored on the counter-attack just when Rostov had introduced striker Aleksandr Bukharov from the substitutes’ bench and were looking dangerous.
Credit Juan Mata, too, for his wonderful contribution. To think it was believed Jose Mourinho took against him at Chelsea because he did not work hard enough. He started the move on the halfway line here, nicking the ball which ran into the path of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and finished it a matter of yards from Rostov’s goal-line having made a lung-bursting run into the box.
In between, Ibrahimovic carried the ball and laid it out to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and then made the box too, receiving his cross and contributing the deftest flick to take it into Mata’s path, unmarked, the target now invitingly open. Yes, he could hardly miss — but the sequence of passes that created the opportunity were quite lovely.
Quite timely, too, Rostov at last coming into the game, with only David de Gea’s understudy Romero between them and a mighty European upset. On three occasions in the second half, Romero saved United. The first after 54 minutes when Sardar Azmoun — the Iranian Messi, apparently, although every country’s got one — cut inside on the left and hit a lovely curling shot.
n the 79th minute, Bukharov, an imposing striker who is kept in reserve on away outings in Europe, had a header tipped wide. Romero kept the best for last though. Phil Jones fouled Aleksandr Erokhin and captain Christian Noboa stood over the ball 30 yards from goal. His free-kick was vicious and accurate, Romero dived full length to tip it around for a corner, and referee Gediminas Mazeika blew for the final whistle.
It was the last kick of the game. Had Rostov scored we would have been plunged into extra-time.
Still, the locals seemed content. They even unwound enough to revel in the sight of Jones deputising at left wing-back for the injured Daley Blind.
United, meanwhile, are in the quarter-final draw of a tournament that rewards the winners with a Champions League place. That is most certainly a prize that will not be underestimated at a club occupying sixth place in the Premier League.
Yet it was hardly an easy watch. Frustration has been a familiar feeling at Old Trafford this season. Too many draws, too many games of coulda, shoulda, woulda.
It isn’t that United are not playing well, more that they are finding it hard to win, to convert all that fine football, all those chances, all that expenditure and optimism, into the only currency that matters in front of goal.
So while the first 70 minutes will have added a fresh helping of anguish, the wait will hardly have come as a shock. In the first half United hit a post twice, and had a penalty denied.
Rostov, meanwhile, set out their stall in the opening 13 minutes. In that time, three of their players could be found prone in their own penalty area, sucking time out of the game as they rested. A blow from the ball, a kick, an awkward tumble; referee Mazeika indulged it, much to Mourinho’s irritation.
When the fourth official signalled a lonely minute of added time at the end of the half, the scowls and eye rolling were worthy of a BAFTA nomination. Rostov would occasionally threaten a counter attack, but it amounted to little early on.
At one stage Noboa broke and looked for an out-ball only to discover he was the farthest yellow shirt up the field and still 25 yards inside his own half.
Rostov regularly defended with 11, and were impressively hard to break down. If Manchester City had been half as diligent in Monaco they would still be in the Champions League.
It would have been a very different game, though, had United’s first chance of the match gone in. It came after five minutes, a Blind corner from the left headed goalwards by Marcos Rojo and flipped up into the night air by goalkeeper Nikita Medvedev. Ibrahimovic was first to it as the ball fell, but succeeded only in hitting the outside of the post from a tight angle.
In the 16th minute, Mata played a lovely through pass for Ibrahimovic who spotted Medvedev in a poor position and took the ball around him. Again, though, the angle was too much. Medvedev recovered and Ibrahimovic’s shot was deflected over.
The Rostov goalkeeper, however, alternated between moments of great confidence and others of great skittishness. After 27 minutes, United should have had a penalty when Medvedev shoved Mkhitaryan, with two hands, in the back as they waited for a high ball to drop.
The additional assistant referee saw nothing, which was a pity because it’s exactly the sort of thing he is there to spot and if he hasn’t got the guts to give it, he might as well make himself useful and do the half-time tea run.
his was United’s best period, though, and in the 34th minute Ibrahimovic cut in on the left before unleashing a shot which defeated Medvedev but not the far post.
Then Paul Pogba, whose attempts at goal had mostly been wild, finally got one on target, forcing a fine save. It proved his last serious involvement in the game, sadly, and three minutes into the second half he was withdrawn with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
It really hasn’t been his year so far; but it may yet be United’s.