It was a chilly Friday evening for the occasion in Manchester, which also served as a night of remembrance coming up on the 64th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster this Sunday, February 6th. Both Ralf Rangnick and Chris Wilder carried wreaths out of the tunnel and laid them on the touchline ahead of kickoff, as a banner of the Busby Babes was unfurled in the Stretford End.
Jadon Sancho nearly scored in the 2nd minute with a lovely chip over Lumley, which unfortunately bounced back off the cross bar. It was a near miss, but set the tone as the hosts looked early and often to strike. A through ball moments later nearly sent Rashford through on the keeper, and Ronaldo went for the spectacular a couple minutes later with a bicycle kick, which weakly went straight at the keeper.
United won a penalty around the 20th minute after Paul Pogba was brought down in the box, and Ronaldo promptly wasted the opportunity to go in front by hitting the spot kick wide of the goal. Fortunately for United, they found the lead just a few minutes later, as Sancho took on a defender and squeezed a shot past the keeper from a wide angle. It wasn’t the tidiest goal he’ll ever score, but it did the job and rewarded the good start to the match by the Reds.
Rashford nearly doubled the lead moments later but was ruled offside when Bruno made the quick pass towards the Englishman. Ronaldo missed on another pair of opportunities to score as well, one of which was one-on-one with the keeper. Despite United’s efforts to find a second goal, the score remained 1-0 going into the break. The vibes were good for the most part, and the returns of Pogba and Sancho to the side added some easy on the eye footballing as well.
The second half picked up where the first left off: Manchester United creating plenty of chances without finding the finishing touch. Ronaldo whiffed on a couple more, got in the way of another, and even stumbled with the ball out of bounds after rounding the keeper. Rashford missed a first-time hit on a good cross by Sancho as well on the most clear-cut chance, but it didn’t deter them from trying again and again.
‘Boro had a couple looks at goal with hopes of an equalizer, but Dean Henderson was up for the challenge until the 64th minute when Matt Crooks poked home a goal for the visitors. The initial ball in was brought down and laid across goal by Watmore, who appeared to have hit the ball with his left hand, but VAR ruled the contact was not enough to disallow the goal.
Supposedly Watmore’s “accidental handball” was not enough to rule out the goal because he was not the goalscorer, even though his direct pass led to the goal just seconds later. Ridiculous lack of intervention, but regardless the game went on.
United went back to missing on chances, including a miss of a nearly open net by Bruno Fernandes as he pounced on a poor defensive pass and shot from the top of the box. The shot cruelly whacked against the upright and added to the growing frustration of the team who deserved a lead but just couldn’t find it again.
Rangnick decided late to finally make some substitutions, but rather than taking off the striker who continually missed great chances he took off Pogba and Rashford, who’d both done well to create on the night. Elanga was probably the right player to come on, and Fred adds some creativity going forward in midfield, but the chances continued to pass United by. Elanga should have converted a chance early in stoppage time, but mistimed his header and sent it wide.
And so, to extra time it went...
United would have 30 more minutes of half chances but never really worried Lumley. Tired legs caught up with the hosts as they played lateral passes but could not open up ‘Boro’s defense.
Echoes of the 2021 Europa League Final would ring in Old Trafford as the clock ticked down on extra time, and the penalty shoot-out began. The first penalty takers from both sides would drill clinical attempts — including Ronaldo who made up for his first-half blunder. Tied at 7-7, Boro would bury their attempt before Elanga walked out to take his. The young forward took a quick stutter step before hitting a shot that would carry too quickly and fly over the crossbar.
United will feel hard done by the Middlesbrough equalizer in regulation, but, ultimately, Manchester United defeated themselves with a lack of ruthlessness. The match finished with the Reds taking 30 shots but only putting nine on target and will be remembered for two very atypical blunders from Ronaldo and Fernandes.
Now, United’s only chance at a trophy this season is the Champion’s League while it will be in a rock fight to keep its top-four position in the Premier League. The Reds are back on the pitch in the league to face Burnley at Turf Moor on Tuesday, February 8. United previously defeated the Clarets this season on December 30, 2021.