Manchester United moved up to second in their Champions League group with a performance that was nothing much to look at, but probably amounts to a decent job done. Having arrived in Moscow late the previous evening, they played most of the game as though heavily jetlagged, yet managed to get a point from a well-organised and occasionally threatening CSKA Moscow side.
They started competently enough, before being undone by a remarkable moment of incompetence from Anthony Martial. So assured in the opposing penalty area, the young Frenchman apparently goes to pieces in his own, and we may never know why he decided to paw at the ball as it bounced past his head. David de Gea saved the penalty, but Seydou Doumbia beat Phil Jones to the rebound, and CSKA Moscow had the lead.
After that, things got predictable, pedestrian, and ptedious. United spent the rest of the half moving the ball around in front of CSKA's well organised defence, failing to find any penetration either down the flanks or through the centre, and then giving possession away and scrambling back to cover the Russians' pace on the break. Igor Akinfeev was almost entirely untroubled in the CSKA goal, and Wayne Rooney wasn't seeing enough of ball to be his usual frustrating self.
Enter Marouane Fellaini. Ordinarily, introducing the big Belgian at the expense of Bastian Schweinsteiger could perhaps be considered a crime against decency, and certainly amounts to a crime against aesthetics. It made footballing sense here, however; CSKA were sitting deep, he hadn't been playing particularly well in any case, and Manchester City are popping round on Sunday. Sadly, while he proved an effective target for the occasional long pass, nobody's ever accused Fellaini of bringing pace, whether of foot or thought, and United remained largely becalmed.
Indeed, they were lucky not to concede another penalty when Marcos Rojo jumped unchallenged for a header, misjudged the angle of the ball entirely, and missed his header by a clear foot. The ball dribbled away off his flailing fist, but the referee clearly felt that looking silly on international television was punishment enough. Then at the other end, after a long, long hour, United finally worked their first half-decent chance. Valencia found a little space down the right and sent over a cross; Rooney, perhaps a little surprised at the sight of the football, could only point his firm header at Akinfeev.
Maybe the opportunity perked United up a touch; certainly, it revealed a weakness in the CSKA defence. Once again Valencia broke down the right and clipped in a cross, this time to the penalty spot and the unmarked Martial, who had overlapped from the left flank. The forward, having worked out which parts of the body he's permitted to use, directed a precise header across the goalkeeper and into the net via the inside of the post. United were level.
Over the remaining half hour, the thought A point each? That'll do settled across the game like a warm blanket. Ander Herrera and Fellaini picked up bookings, Akinfeev had to scramble a touch to punch a deep Daley Blind cross clear, and a couple of hundred Russians took off their shirts and bounced around in the freezing air. Nights like this, you can't blame them for making their own entertainment.