All the pre-match talk was about how José Mourinho had again left Wayne Rooney on the bench for Manchester United’s Europa League tie against Zorya at Old Trafford.
But the England captain would play a decisive, if extremely fortunate, part in the Red Devils claiming three points to bounce back from their defeat to Feyenoord two weeks ago.
It was a controlled if not wholly exhilarating opening 20 minutes for United, as the Ukrainian outfit sat deep and looked to counter. Zlatan Ibrahimovic came close to opening the scoring via a deflected 25-yard shot. And from the subsequent corner, Marcus Rashford rattled the crossbar from inside the penalty area.
On the half hour, Zlatan Ibrahimovic won a free-kick 30 yards from goal, which the Swede drove straight into the wall.
As the first half drew to a close, United began to find their stride, with Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini all failing to convert headed chances and Brazilian defender Rafael was twice forced into evasive action for the away side.
United made a sloppy start to the second half, with Paul Pogba, Mata and Lingard all losing possession, while Fellaini, who was operating in the defensive midfield role, was caught ahead of the ball as Zorya countered.
On 65 minutes, Zorya substitute Paulinho’s 20-yard strike forced Sergio Romero into a diving save.
Shorty after, and with the home side yet to muster a shot on target, Mourinho elected to bring Rooney on in place of Lingard. And seconds later, the 30-year-old managed to fluff a superb chance from 10 yards out.
But the skipper’s miscued strike bounced right into the path of Ibrahimovic, who headed in from inside the six yard box — an inspired assist by Rooney.
United made a double change after 73 minutes, with Mata and Timothy Fosu-Mensah making way for Anthony Martial and Ashley Young.
Ibrahimovic saw a close range shot cleared off the line after great work down the right by Martial, but the linesman’s flag meant that the goal wouldn’t have stood anyway.
In the closing minutes a promising Martial run was cut short by Rafael, who was adjudged to have fouled the Frenchman. Ibrahimovic found the target with the resultant free-kick, but Oleksiy Shevchenko in the Zorya goal was equal to it, forcing United to settle for a single-goal victory.