Manchester United struggle past Ukrainian lightweights

Against a team of Ukrainian underdogs in the Europa League, United went back to old habits with a dire performance.

Rooney had only been on the pitch for two minutes after once again being left on the bench by Jose Mourinho when Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s cross reached him in the 69th minute.

The execution was poor and typical of a player lacking form and confidence. He fired the ball into the turf and it looped up awkwardly towards the far post.

Fortunately for him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was waiting and leapt high above Mykyta Kamenyuka to meet it with a downward header.

Only goalkeeper Oleksil Shevchenko knows why he was already in the back of his own net when the ball crossed the line, but United weren’t complaining and neither was Rooney.

It has not been an easy time for the England captain, culminating in Jose Mourinho’s decision to drop him on Saturday when United produced their best performance of the season against champions Leicester.

They were significantly less fluent here against more disciplined opposition on a another night when the Europa League seemed to represent an unwanted distraction for Mourinho’s side.

‘Maybe the Europa League is something they’re not that interested in,’ said former United midfielder Paul Scholes. Coming two weeks after a limp defeat to Feyenoord in Rotterdam, it was hard to disagree.

Old Trafford was far from sold out for the occasion, United’s first ever home game in the group stage of this competition.

There were only 50 Zoyra fans in attendance – including five who had made the journey from Ukraine – and the away end of the stadium was partly filled by 2,500 children here on a cut-price ticket scheme.

It gave this tie the air of an exhibition game, and not a very good one at that.

Indeed, 24 hours after Manchester City had been involved in a barnstorming Champions League game at Celtic Park, the contrast could not have been greater. Rarely has United’s exclusion from the European elite been more keenly felt than this.

Ibrahimovic’s winner 21 minutes from time was United’s first effort on target – and one of only two in total – which perhaps says it all.

Up until that point they had struggled to break down a team lying second in the Ukraine championship, and forced to play 300 miles away from Luhansk due to the civil war in their country. The suggestions that United may not be taking this Tournament serious, and there was plenty to lend credence to that on display a few players.

In fact, it was Zorya who had the first chance inside the opening five minutes.

Winger Ivan Petriak found space down the left and pulled the ball back for Zeljko Ljubenovic who rather snatched at the opportunity on the edge of the box, hooking a first-time shot over Sergio Romero’s crossbar.

United continued to press but the Ukrainians’ intention to hit them on them on the break was clear to see, and Petriak was at the heart of another sweeping move upfield which ended with Chris Smalling heading Olexandr Karavaev’s cross away from danger.

United took nearly 20 minutes to produce their first serious effort on goal as Ibrahimovic’s 25-yard shot was partially blocked by Dmytro Grechyshkin, and the ball flew just wide of the upright for a corner.

Juan Mata delivered from the right, Paul Pogba flicked on and Marcus Rashford sent a thumping shot against the underside of the bar and onto the line.

Pogba then picked out Mata with a clever cross that seemed to catch the Spaniard by surprise as he headed wide.

But they were rare moments of excitement in a tepid first half that only served to remind us that United are not exactly crazy about this competition.

nd they were given a real scare five minutes after the restart when Karavaev got free down the right and floated a ball to the penalty spot where an unmarked Ljubenovic would surely have scored had he not failed to make contact by a matter of inches.

Substitute Paulinho then brought a fine save out of Sergio Romero with a curling effort from the edge of the area.

That was the cue for Mourinho to summon Rooney off the bench. It brought one of the bigger cheers of the night from a frustrated home crowd.

Two minutes later they were applauding again as Ibrahimovic grabbed his sixth goal in 10 games to put United back in contention in Group A.

Whether that’s what they want is another matter altogether.

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Romero 6; Fosu-Mensah 7 (Martial 74mins, 6), Bailly 6, Smalling 7, Rojo 5.5; Fellaini 5.5, Pogba 6.5; Lingard 6.5 (Rooney 67, 6), Mata 6.5 (Young 74, 6), Rashford 7; Ibrahimovic 6.5.

Subs not used: Johnstone, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Memphis.

Booked: Bailly.

Scorer: Ibrahimovic 69.

ZORYA LUHANSK (4-2-3-1): Shevchenko 6.5; Kamenyuka 7, Sivakov 7, Forster 6.5, Sobol 6; Grechyshkin 6.5; Chaykovsky 7.5 (Gordienko 80), Ljubenovic 6.5 (Lipartia 76), Petryak 7; Kulach 6 (Paulinho 60, 6).

Subs not used: Chuvayev, Sukhotsky, Opanasenko, Checher.

Booked: Kamenyuka.

Referee: Orel Grinfeld (Israel)

culled from www.dailymail.co.uk

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