Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fine solo goal helped Manchester United through to the Europa League knockout stages, opening his account in style as Zorya Luhansk were overcome on a testing night in Ukraine.
Initial struggles after a summer move from Borussia Dortmund appear to be a thing of the past, with the 27-year-old impressing on his return to a country where he plied his trade for Shakhtar Donetsk.
Mkhitaryan’s fine goal and a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic strike saw already-eliminated Zorya beaten 2-0 as United ended a seven-match wait for an away win in Europe and finished second in Group A.
Fenerbahce’s win at Feyenoord means Jose Mourinho’s men will be unseeded for Monday’s last-32 draw, but progressing unscathed will be a relief after so much concern about the Chornomorets Stadium pitch. Players complained of the surface being like rock as their studs clacked on the frozen surface on the eve of the match in Odessa, but Uefa deemed it playable after overnight heating and two pitch inspections.
It may not have been frozen but it was patchy, leading to an underwhelming first half in which United’s goal at times looked under threat – and not just from the firecracker that landed worryingly close to goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
Uefa will no doubt look at that along with the laser pen, flare and skirmishes on a night when Mkhitaryan’s moment of inspiration early in the second half broke the deadlock.
Until then, Mourinho’s men had struggled to break down the hosts, with loose passing and poor decision-making becoming an increasingly prevalent theme.
United needed shaking into life, and Mkhitaryan did that when he shot United into the lead.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk playmaker broke from the centre circle and made a bee-line for goal, all too easily bursting into the box past Rafael Forster and coolly slotting home three minutes after the break.
Zorya responded by becoming became an increasingly attacking force, albeit without testing Romero until the 73rd minute.
A free-kick from the left was met by a glancing header from Mikhail Sivakov, testing United’s goalkeeper from close range before Marouane Fellaini then attempted a header of his own. United ended the stronger as Pogba and Tim Fosu-Mensah threatened either side of Ibrahimovic’s late goal. Collecting a through ball from Pogba, the Swede’s experience and composure showed as he curled the ball home.