A PHIL Jones strike eased the pressure on his manager David Moyes as Manchester United beat Shakhtar Donetsk to win Group A and avoid the ignominy of a third home defeat on the bounce.
Scorers: Manchester United - Jones (67)
When Jones surged onto Rafael’s return pass and brought a close-range save out of Andriy Pyatov it did seem United were in the mood to at least maintain their impressive European form.
Pretty soon though, the anxiety that has enveloped them during those back-to-back home losses to Everton and Newcastle returned.
Taison’s through-ball presented Alex Teixeira with a clear run at goal and his flick rolled narrowly wide of the far post.
Though Adnan Januzaj did bring a decent save out of Pyatov, it was the start of an extended period of Shakhtar pressure, in which United, clearly lacking in confidence, struggled to string more than a couple of passes together.
A lone cry of “get a midfield in there” could be heard about the general groans and not even Wayne Rooney curling a free-kick into the side-netting could counter the growing feeling United were in perilous danger of falling behind.
Fred should have turned that fear into reality after Teixeira had robbed Rio Ferdinand, who had a shocker, but despite the ball being rolled invitingly into his path, the shot lacked power and did not threaten the home goal. A couple of good opportunities for Young came and went.
The winger lobbed Pyatov with the first but as the ball dropped narrowly wide, Young would have known if he had elected to square for Rooney, the United skipper would have had a tap-in. Young also drove wide after collecting Jones’ crossfield pass, prompting Keane’s latest critical assessment of his former club during his half-time analysis. Van Persie’s introduction brought added potency to the home attack and the Dutchman was a key figure in their opener, albeit by taking the corner Jones lashed home. The relief that rippled round the stadium as Jones’ volley hit the net was palpable and whilst Shakhtar did try to respond, they were the ones who lacked conviction as Bayer Leverkusen’s win away to Real Sociedad dumped them into the Europa League.
Man Utd: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Buttner (Valencia 88), Jones, Giggs (Cleverley 63), Young (van Persie 63), Kagawa, Januzaj, Rooney. Subs Not Used: Lindegaard, Anderson, Hernandez, Nani.
Shakhtar: Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk, Fred (Fernando 81), Stepanenko, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira, Taison (Bernard 63), Luiz Adriano (Ferreyra 88). Subs Not Used: Kanibolotskiy, Hubschman, Eduardo, Kryvtsov.