Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s close-range header secured Manchester United a much-needed win from a flat Europa League clash with Zorya Luhansk.
Two weeks on from opening their maiden group stage campaign in the competition with defeat at Feyenoord, Jose Mourinho conceded his side could ill afford to falter against last night’s relatively unknown Ukrainian opponents.
Zorya certainly played their part at Old Trafford and frustrated the hosts for large parts, but Ibrahimovic’s close-range header would eventually secure a 1-0 win that may not have enthralled but kick-starts United’s Group A campaign.
Mourinho’s side dominated possession from the outset but struggled to translate that control into goals, unlike Saturday’s shellacking of reigning Premier League champions Leicester. United scored three goals from corners that day and their best first-half chance came via the same route, with Marcus Rashford’s thumping effort hitting the underside of the crossbar.
Zorya were proving a nuisance on the break but struggling to threaten Sergio Romero’s goal, with United snatching a winner two minutes after Wayne Rooney came off the bench.
The England captain’s mis-hit effort was headed home by Ibrahimovic, securing an important three points from an uninspiring match.
Ibrahimovic was a happy man after earning the win over their unheralded opponents.
“It was not an easy game, we played well, created chances,” said the Swede. “If you don’t score in the beginning then the spaces get smaller. After the goal there was more space. It was a decent game and we won. It was good to take the three points.
“If you want to go through you need to win the game. We won but we could do much more. We are working hard. Against Leicester we did a good game, today we did a good game and it is good for confidence.”
Mourinho added: “It was difficult, we had chances in the first half but we didn’t take them and they were organised with people behind the ball.
“[In] one week [we had] three defeats, one week [we have] three victories. I was not depressed with the defeats or on the moon with the victories. The game on Sunday is now the most important.” Looking ahead to Stoke on Sunday, he added: “We have almost everybody in position to play. It is a very difficult match, Stoke [do not belong] where they are in the table… they have a good manager and players.”