Romanian champions CFR Cluj held on to condemn Sir Alex Ferguson to his 39th defeat in his 200th European Cup match as United manager, and his third in United’s past five European home games, but it was all in vain for his Portuguese counterpart, whose side were turfed out of the competition by Galatasaray’s comeback in Braga despite taking the lead with Luis Alberto’s magnificent second-half strike.
It was not the way Ferguson would have wanted to prepare for that eagerly-awaited trip across town to face Manchester City on Sunday, even if City are looking equally bereft just now, which is bizarre in itself given how far clear of the rest they have drawn. It seemed a shame such a landmark should occur on a drab occasion like this.
With temperatures plummeting, Ferguson did not even deem it worthy of taking his customary place in the Old Trafford dug-out for the first half, instead stationing himself in the directors’ box. Ferguson’s hope of escaping unscathed given Sunday’s crucial trip to the Etihad was dashed just before the break when Tom Cleverley headed straight for the dressing rooms after being replaced by Paul Scholes. A small, but noisy contingent from Romania were given something to warm them up 11 minutes after the re-start when Alberto scored a beauty, his 30-yard shot curling away from the returning David de Gea and into the top corner.