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EUROPA LEAGUE: Man Utd make hard work of quarter final berth

Manchester United progressed to the last eight of the Europa League with a 1-0 win on the night and a 2-1 aggregate success overall against an obdurate FC Rostov from Russia.

FC Rostov set their stall out from kick-off. A wall of yellow shirts was put in place to frustrate the Utd team and a mixture of desperate defending and the woodwork meant a scoreless and first 45 minutes for the home side.

Not that Utd did not have chances to take the lead. Twice Zlatan Ibrahimovic was denied by the woodwork. Marcos Rojo header was saved and from the loose ball the Swede hit the outside of the post from the tightest of angles. Then Utd's leading scorer turned his maker inside the penalty area and cracked a fierce shot against the inside of the post.

With both Utd's full backs, Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia, playing as virtual wingers a series of crosses caused confusion in the Rostov rearguard but it was the ball over the top that twice almost broke the deadlock.

Ibrahimovic managed to round keeper Nikita Medvedev but was forced wide and the chance went. The keeper then appeared to push Heinrikh Mkhitaryan but no penalty; the Armenian playmaker was put clear but his delicate chip over Medvedev drifted narrowly wide.

On the stroke of half-time the Russian's had their first shot of the game which was followed by a quick Utd break which ended with Paul Pogba's effort being saved at full stretch.

The second period began with more frustration for Jose Mourinho as Paul Pogba went off almost immediately injured to be replaced by Marouane Fellaini.

The visitor's defensive tactics were something of a puzzle as a scoreless draw would see Man Utd advance on away goals, yet they showed little inclination to attack. But any Utd complacency was shook when Sardar Azmoun brought a fine stop from Sergio Romero who also saved comfortably from the resulting corner when the ball was only half cleared to Christian Noboa.

The 200 or so Rostov fans began making themselves heard as their team suddenly developed attacking ambitions requiring a couple of block tackles in the Utd penalty area.

Ironically it was when Rostov looked at their most dangerous that Utd scored. After a spell of pressure the Russians lost possession and with limited numbers at the back Utd broke quickly on 70 minutes and Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic combined to leave Juan Mata the simplest of tasks from close range.

Not that the home side were home and dry yet as substitute Aleksandr Bukharov showed as his glancing header brought a smart stop from Romero. The yellow shirts continued attacking causing nervousness amongst the home support not helped by some less than convincing defending at times.

The final whistle arrived but not before Rostov had an injury time free kick which gave the Utd team a nervous moment as Romero was forced into a full length save to push the ball behind.

Full Time

Man Utd: 1 (Mata 70)

FC Rostov: 0

Man Utd through 2-1 on aggregate

Ian Ferris
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Ian Ferris

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