Real Sociedad 0 Manchester United 0
Robin van Persie missed a penalty and Marouane Fellaini was sent off as Manchester United edged closer to a place in the Champions League knockout stages after a goalless draw against Real Sociedad last night.
After a dismal first half, Javier Hernandez inexplicably failed to tap home Shinji Kagawa’s low cross from barely six yards before substitutes Van Persie and Ashley Young took centre stage.
Within minutes of their joint arrival, Young provided the cross which Van Persie belted against a post.
More contentious was the spot-kick awarded to the visitors when Young went down under Markel Bergara’s challenge.
Although referee Nicola Rizzoli was certain, others were less so.
Van Persie was not worrying about that as he strode up to take the kick. He soon had cause to regret his own failings though as his effort also bounced back off the woodwork before clipping goalkeeper Claudio Bravo on the way out and rolling to safety.
It was the first time Van Persie had missed from the spot since his failure at Southampton in the first weeks after his arrival from Arsenal. He atoned for that miss by scoring a match-winning hat-trick.
There were no such heroics here and with Fellaini red-carded for the first time in his United career for a second yellow card, the visitors were forced to see out the contest with 10 men.
However with the other game in the group also ending goalless, no damage was done to United’s chances of reaching the last 16, which they will reach with a win from either of their two remaining fixtures.
That didn’t stop United manager David Moyes from ruing his side’s wastefulness.
“We had enough chances to win, especially in the second half,” Moyes said. “We controlled most of it, and but for one or two moments we were the team on top.
“But that was a game we should have won. It was there for us to take the points, get ourselves in a really strong position, and near enough get clear. We’ve not done it.”
On Fellaini’s dismissal, Moyes said: “It was the totting up at the end that got him sent off, which was really harsh because he played well.
“There were some strange decisions, a few things I found hard, with the crowd whistling for an awful lot of things.”
With seven points accumulated already, Moyes could even afford to leave Van Persie on the bench, allowing Hernandez an unexpected start, with two more men on the fringes, Kagawa and Fellaini joining the Mexican.
Not that any of them could raise the standard in what was a mediocre opening period and Uefa’s own statistic of three shots in the first half-hour had observers scratching their heads to remember them.
Kagawa was responsible for one, at the end of the best move of the match.
Patrice Evra delivered a superb low cross into the box, which Rooney flicked back towards the Japan star.
Kagawa’s shot was tame though and would not have troubled the Socieded goal even without the deflection that took it wide.
Fellaini brought a bit of life to proceedings when he caught Markel Bergara with a tackle that upset his opponent and earned the Belgian a yellow card.
In Hernandez’s inexplicable miss alone, the second half contained more to discuss than had gone before the break. With three goals in his last two games, prior to being left on the bench at Fulham, it is not as if he was out of form.
There certainly appeared no plausible excuse for his woeful miss, skying high over the net from only six yards after Kagawa’s cross had rolled perfectly into his path.
Hernandez was replaced not long afterwards as part of a double substitution that also saw the exit of Rooney as Van Persie and Young were introduced. Moments later, the latter was crossing for the former, from much the same spot as Kagawa had delivered for Hernandez.
Van Persie’s angle was acute. The power behind his shot was impressive though as the ball shot back off the near post.
Finally though, the game had sprung to life. And when Young went to ground — too easily for some even though Bergara was booked — Van Persie seemed sure to score from the spot.
He failed. And as Socieded countered Xabi Prieto’s goalbound effort was deflected over.
The hosts got no closer, even after Fellaini had departed.
REAL SOCIEDAD: Bravo, Carlos Martinez, Mikel Gonzalez, Martinez, De la Bella, Pardo (Prieto 72), Markel, Zurutuza, Vela, Agirretxe (Castro 64), Griezmann (Seferovic 79).
MAN UNITED: De Gea, Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fellaini, Giggs, Kagawa (Jones 90), Rooney (van Persie 63), Hernandez (Young 64).
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy).
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