Manchester United will carry an away goal’s advantage into the second leg of their Europa League tie with Rostov next week, after earning a 1-1 draw away in Russia on Thursday. They took the lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the first half, only to throw it in a disappointing second.
The tone for a scrappy game was set in the first few minutes, with even United resorting to kick-and-rush on a surface sandier than a day at Scarborough. Mourinho's decision to line up with a back three was vindicated in a match where conditions rewarded physicality over skill, but though United had little problem controlling territory in the opening exchanges, their inability to settle on the ball grew increasingly frustrating.
But though it wasn’t pretty, United nevertheless managed to snatch an all-important away goal with 10 minutes of the first half left. A long hoof down the left was brought down nicely by Marouane Fellaini, and slid across the six yard box in smart fashion by the fleet-footed Zlatan Ibrahimović. It left Mkhitaryan a tap-in, and the Armenian made no mistake.
Unfortunately, if United thought the job was done there, they were badly mistaken. Within a few minutes of the restart Rostov netted a shock equaliser, with Aleksandr Bukharov finishing superbly after bringing down a delightful deep cross from veteran right-back Timofei Kalachev. It was poor defending from Mourinho’s men, with complacency perhaps to blame.
The Russians had a spring in their step, and for the first time in the match started to pin United back. The football remained as agricultural as the surface, but the momentum was certainly with the hosts. Before long they created a good chance to take the lead, though Aleksandr Yerokhin fell victim to a bobble and scythed a shot wide from inside the area.
It was a poor second half performance from United, but one imagines that Mourinho won’t be too unhappy with the result. United have a lead they should be able to see out at Old Trafford, and escaped with no injuries on a surface that looked every bit as bad as pre-match reports suggested. Things could’ve been much worse.