Manchester United 0 Cluj 1
Manchester United have work to do ahead of Sunday’s derby as Romanian champions CFR Cluj condemned Alex Ferguson to his 39th defeat in his 200th European Cup match as United boss, and his third in United’s past five European home games.
If there was any meagre consolation, at least the winner was not the result of shambolic defending, although Luis Alberto’s magnificent second-half strike still was not enough for Cluj to join United in the last 16.
It was not the way Ferguson would have wanted to prepare for that eagerly-awaited trip across town but he remains upbeat.
“It was a wonder goal that beat us,” Ferguson said. “We didn’t deserve that, we had a lot of good chances but I’ve got no complaints.
“I’m satisfied we put a decent performance in.”
Ferguson made 10 changes from the Reading match, with only Wayne Rooney retaining his place, as he had one eye firmly fixed on the game at Manchester City.
“A lot of them got some experience tonight,” Ferguson added. “Young [Nick] Powell did well, 18 years of age, and Phil Jones, it was an excellent game for him tonight — only his second game in about nine months — so I’m very pleased with that part of it. We go into the next stage as winners but we could face Shakhtar Donetsk, AC Milan, Porto, there are some big names in there. We’ve qualified comfortably, no question, but the real tournament starts in February.”
While Ferguson gave youth its chance, it wasn’t all bright.
Chris Smalling did not do much to convince anyone he could stop the ‘Cartoon Cavalcade’ defending United’s manager accused his team of at the Madejski Stadium last weekend, with a poor clearance to Rafael Bastos, which was followed by the England man nearly deflecting the subsequent shot into his own net.
Other than an early Danny Welbeck header and Mario Felgueiras’s brave block to halt Javier Hernandez’s route to goal, the hosts were second best early on.
Had Scott Wootton not turned Modou Sougou’s effort wide, United would probably have been behind yet again and it took a bit of sharp work from Rooney inside his own six-yard box to prevent the corner causing some damage.
United finally shook off their lethargy six minutes before the break when Welbeck met Rooney’s corner at the near post, only to be denied in unorthodox fashion by Felgueiras, who somehow kept the header out. Felgueiras’s agility was on show again moments later as he clawed Rooney’s deft chip out of the top corner.
Ferguson’s hope of escaping the evening unscathed was dashed just before the break when Tom Cleverley headed straight for the dressing rooms with a calf problem.
“We’ll have to see what he’s like,” Ferguson said.
The small, but noisy, contingent from Romania were given something to warm them up 11 minutes after the restart when Luis Alberto scored a beauty, his 30-yard shot curling away from David de Gea and into the top corner.
United tried to hit back and Rooney set up Jones from an acute angle, but Felgueiras was again equal to his effort.
Elsewhere in the group, Aydin Yilmaz struck a late winner as Galatasaray came from behind to claim the win they needed over Braga in Portugal to progress to the Champions League knockout stages.
The Turkish side knew only a win would definitely be enough against their already-eliminated opponents, and their chances looked slim when Marcio Mossoro put the hosts in front just past the half-hour mark.
But a second-half equaliser from Burak Yilmaz and the winner from his namesake with 11 minutes to go sealed Galatasaray’s progress at the expense of rivals Cluj, despite the latter’s excellent win at Old Trafford.
MAN UTD: De Gea, Jones, Wootton, Smalling, Buttner, Powell (Macheda 73), Cleverley (Scholes 45), Giggs (Fletcher 86), Welbeck, Rooney, Hernandez.
CFR CLUJ-NAPOCA: Mario Felgueiras, Ivo Pinto, Cadu, Piccolo, Rada, Muresan, Luis Alberto, Rui Pedro (Aguirregaray 71), Camora, Sougou (Kapetanos 90), Bastos (Maftei 78).
Ref: Daniele Orsato (Italy).
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