Jones stops United rot but cavalier spirit still on missing list

Manchester United 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 0
We got to the top of the group and that’s what we wanted

Manchester United 1 Shakhtar Donetsk 0

We got to the top of the group and that’s what we wanted

The Champions League continues to provide David Moyes with some much-needed relief from his Premier League troubles, but there is still a long way to go before teams are fearing Manchester United again on this evidence.

Phil Jones’ second-half strike ended a lengthy spell without a goal for United and secured them top spot in Group A, but this was not a performance that will have supporters believing they have turned a corner.

The target for Moyes was of course to avoid three straight home defeats for the first time in 51 years after Everton and Newcastle both came to Old Trafford and secured 1-0 wins in the last week.

But Alex Ferguson’s successor also needed a display from his side that would suggest they are returning to some sort of form that will have teams scared to play them on their own patch again.

“We need to win matches and the players responded well,” claimed Moyes. “We got to the top of the group and that’s what we wanted.

“We didn’t play that well in the first half and they had two or three opportunities. We got better in the second half and were much better.”

But there was no sign that this is a side capable of going on a run that will see them rise the Premier League table at the blistering pace that is required after five defeats already in the domestic competition.

It was quiet at Old Trafford last night early on and although there seems to be no sense of panic about their current predicament, it is anxious both on and off the pitch.

United seemed timid and yet again playing without the cavalier spirit that helped them to the Premier League title just last season.

Fortunately for United, Shakhtar’s Alex Teixeira seemed to lack as much confidence as United in front of goal as he shot straight at a grateful David De Gea on two occasions.

Even Ryan Giggs, a star in United’s previous Champions League win against Bayer Leverkusen, was as jittery on the ball as the supporters were in the stands as he gave away possession time and time again.

Shinji Kagawa was covering a lot of ground, dropping back deep into midfield to collect the ball as Phil Jones and Giggs struggled to get it forward. Michael Carrick may not be a stand-out star for many, but this United team misses his passing attributes badly.

Chances would fall to United before the break but they only brought frustration and Ashley Young was at fault once again — first a lobbed effort wide and then a lashed shot off target.

The Stretford End was singing in support of Moyes after the break despite another chance wasted by the visitors. While fans on social networks and those calling in to radio shows continue to call for the Scot to go already, inside Old Trafford, where it really matters, there is still plenty of support.

For Young though, all patience is gone with the United fans. His first-half misses hardly warmed him to the Old Trafford faithful, who booed him as he made way for Robin van Persie just after the hour mark.

Van Persie, who clearly lacked fitness on his return against Newcastle on Saturday, would be an instant provider. His corner met by Jones and a long wait for a goal ended after two failures to score at home in their previous two encounters at Old Trafford against Everton and Newcastle.

Shakhtar needed a win to ensure their progress but they seemed to have run out of ideas and gifts from United. They finish third behind a United side which claimed four wins and two draws — their best record at this stage since the 2007-08 campaign when they went on to win the competition in Moscow.

But United fans will not be booking any trips to Lisbon for next May’s final anytime soon even if Monday’s draw for the last 16 is favourable.

“For a club like Manchester United you always have to win the trophy,” said Moyes. “I think the teams in the competition are very good but we need to get better as the tournament goes on. It will be a hard competition but we take every game as it comes.”

Their immediate focus, however, goes to Sunday and a much more important game against Aston Villa in the Premier League.

“We have had a disappointing couple of weeks,” admitted match winner Jones. “But, hopefully, we can kick on from this. It is about time we kicked on.”

MAN UTD: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Buttner (Valencia 88), Jones, Giggs (Cleverley 63), Young (van Persie 63), Kagawa, Januzaj, Rooney.

SHAKHTAR DONETSK: Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk, Fred (Fernando 81), Stepanenko, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira, Taison (Bernard 63), Luiz Adriano (Ferreyra 88).

Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia).


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