Man United 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 0
The swagger of old continues to elude David Moyes’s Manchester United but at least they held their nerve to see off Shakhtar Donetsk’s challenge for top place in Group A at Old Trafford.
Roy Keane’s latest rant may not unduly perturb Moyes, but a patchy display will have done so until Phil Jones lifted the tension with a crisp finish from a 67th-minute corner by substitute Robin van Persie.
The United manager went through agonies watching his side stumble to defeats by Everton and Newcastle, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s old seat in the dug-out can scarcely have been any more comfortable last night after he saw them outplayed by Ukraine’s leading team.
Manchester United: De Gea 6, Rafael 6, Buttner 6 (Valencia 88), Jones 7, Ferdinand 5, Evans 6, Januzaj 7, Giggs 5 (Cleverley 63, 6), Rooney 7, Kagawa 6, Young 5 (Van Persie 63, 6)
Subs not used: Anderson, Lindegaard, Hernandez, Nani
Goal: Jones 67
Booked: Buttner, Cleverley
Manager: David Moyes 6
Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov 6, Srna 6, Shevchuk 6, Stapenenko 6, Kucher 6, Rakitskiy 7, Douglas Costa 7, Fred 6 (Fernando 80), Luiz Adriano 6 (Ferreyra 88), Teixeira 8, Taison 7 (Bernard 63, 6)
Subs not used: Hubschman, Eduardo, Kanibolotskiy, Krivtsov
Booked: Srna, Kucher
Manager: Mircea Lucescu 6
Man of the match: Alex Teixera
Referee: Milorad Mazic 6
United had their moments, but they were few and far between, and nothing like as menacing as those that threatened to inflict a third successive home defeat on them for the first time since 1962.
Yaroslav Rakitskiy came closest to a Shakhtar breakthrough with a shot against a post early in the second half, while Ashley Young wasted United’s best two chances and was then taunted when he made way for Van Persie.
Jones’s strike finally raised the sort of cheer United players are more used to hearing, but it was still a night of frayed nerves and discernible unease for a United side who remain way below their best.
Mindful of injury worries and a demanding return to Barclays Premier League action at Aston Villa on Sunday, Moyes demoted Van Persie to the bench.
It was more a case of safety first than taking it easy. Qualification may have been secured but top place — and potentially a less hazardous draw in the next round — was up for grabs.
Almost as important for Moyes was seeing a performance that would help win over some of the doubters among United’s support.
If the pressure was on the United manager, the same sense of unease seemed to permeate a crowd that was significantly below capacity. Often at big European nights at this famous old venue, you can hardly hear yourself think. Last night, the only sound, in the opening stages at least, was a steady buzz of conversation.
It was more like stepping into a black-tie function than a red-hot European occasion, and United desperately needed a flying start to ignite their subdued supporters.
With Young patrolling the left flank, Adnan Januzaj was handed a new role on the right, and he looked up for the task of trying to open up the visitors’ defence.
As early as the third minute, he latched on to a pass from Rio Ferdinand and combined with Shinji Kagawa in a move that ended with Alexander Buttner overhitting his cross from the left.
The end-product from the overlapping Buttner might have been better, but it was an early sign of promise that was built on by Jones three minutes later.
Operating in midfield, Jones called on all the strength that makes him a natural at centre back, as he held off the challenge of Taras Stepanenko on the right and tested Andriy Pyatov with an angled shot that the keeper blocked.
United went close again in the 17th minute, with a smart turn by Januzaj and snap shot that Pyatov beat away, while Wayne Rooney curled a 32nd-minute free-kick into the side netting and Young was left hanging his head five minutes later, after bursting clear of his marker only to send a lob spinning wide.
In case that sounds like United were monopolising goalscoring opportunities, it ought to be pointed out these were brief moments of respite for a side who were being pinned back for much of the first half.
Shakhtar should have gone ahead in the 13th minute when Taison sent Alex Teixeira surging clear for a left-foot shot that flew wide of the far post, just as Jonny Evans slid in with a belated and vain attempt to cut him off.
Douglas Costa skipped past Buttner with ease on the right in the 20th minute, before veering inside and drilling a low shot wide of the near post, and promptly switched flanks to embarrass Ferdinand with his speed off the mark.
Fortunately for the sluggish Ferdinand, there was no-one on hand to capitalise on the resulting cross, but it set the tone for the rest of the half, as Costa and Teixeira continued to stretch United.
Costa had a goalbound effort blocked by Jones on the half-hour, and when Teixeira showed Ferdinand a clean pair of heels, not for the first time, three minutes later United sighed with relief at a weak finish by Fred.
United finally broke free of their shackles and mounted an attack of their own in the 44th minute, but to no avail. Rooney set up Young, but the winger’s woeful slice said everything about confidence levels among Moyes’s men and it was greeted with howls.
The torture continued for an edgy home support, as Shakhtar threatened a breakthrough within two minutes of the restart. A corner from the left found its way through to an unmarked Rakitskiy, whose deflected shot clipped the outside of the right post.
Finally something went United’s way on 67 minutes, as Evans missed his attempt to connect with Van Persie’s corner but Jones made no mistake, sweeping a first-time shot past the keeper from near the penalty spot.
Source : Daily mail