Manchester United booked their place in the quarterfinals of the Europa League on Thursday, with a 1-0 win at home to Rostov sufficient to ensure a 2-1 aggregate victory. The only goal of a poor match came midway through the second half, with Juan Mata the only man able to break the monotony of an extremely dull affair.
United seized control of the game from the very start, and were unfortunate not to take the lead within five minutes. An outswinging corner by Daley Blind was met by a powerful Marcos Rojo header, though Rostov keeper Nikita Medvedev was on hand to deny both the Argentine and Zlatan Ibrahimović on the follow-up.
After their early chance, United may well have been expecting to romp to victory, though Rostov’s massed defensive ranks ensured a frustrating encounter. Not until just short of the half-hour did the hosts create a chance from open play, though Henrik Mkhitaryan chipped wide after a slick passing move bought Mata the space to thread him through.
Ibrahimović almost finally found the breakthrough a few minutes later, though his effort from a tight angle curled against Rostov’s far post. It neatly summed up United’s first half: close, but lacking the requisite accuracy in the final third. For their part, the visitors offered absolutely nothing at all in attack, but were still very much in the tie.
United were reminded of that fact within minutes of the restart, when Rostov mounted their first dangerous counter of the game. It culminated in a curling effort from Iranian hot-shot Sardar Azmoun, which Sergio Romero had to beat to safety.
Rostov appeared to be growing in confidence, so it was just as well that United finally broke the deadlock inside the final 20 minutes. It was a move started and finished by Mata, who nicked the ball off Rostov in midfield and helped it out to Mkhitaryan, whose low cross found the Spaniard at the back stick via a flick from Ibrahimović. A tap-in was all that was required, and Mata kindly obliged.
The visitors still needed only a goal to take the game into extra time, though fortunately Romero wanted extra time as much as the rest of us stood watching. He made an excellent save to deny a point-blank Alexander Bukharov header with 10 minutes remaining, and was called into another outstanding stop to deny a bullet of a Christian Noboa free-kick with the very last kick of the match.
With a parp of the whistle, the referee eventually brought a miserable game to a conclusion, and sent United through into the Europa League’s quarterfinals.