– FC Rostov 1-1 Manchester United

March 9, 2017

Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored his third goal in the Europa League this season

Manchester United were held to a draw by FC Rostov in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie in Russia.

On a challenging pitch at the Olymp-2 Stadium – which was criticised by United manager Jose Mourinho before the match – midfielder Paul Pogba miscued from inside the box early on.

But United grabbed a vital away goal through Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s close-range finish following excellent work by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede shot over the crossbar in the second half, before Rostov forward Aleksandr Bukharov latched on to Timofei Kalachev’s pass for the equaliser.

Aleksandar Erokhin stabbed a shot wide for the hosts from a promising position and United’s Marouane Fellaini headed straight at the goalkeeper from a corner.

The return leg takes place at Old Trafford next Thursday (kick-off 19:45 GMT).

Good result for United?

Mourinho was unhappy with the state of the pitch at Rostov’s Olymp-2 Stadium

The Red Devils faced a difficult 3,750-mile round trip for the game in south Russia – and they were cheered on by 238 travelling supporters, who each had their visas paid for by the club and were given blankets on entering the ground.

Mourinho set up with three centre-backs and Ashley Young and Daley Blind acting as wing-backs in a change of formation for the Premier League side.

The Portuguese manager spoke before the game about deploying a more “direct” approach because of the dreadful pitch, but he may also have had Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final against his old club Chelsea in mind.

As well as a dry and bobbly surface, the stop-start game – which had a total of 38 fouls – made for a poor spectacle. However, Mourinho will surely be confident his players can go back to Old Trafford and complete the job next week.

For their goal, Fellaini held off a home defender before feeding Ibrahimovic, whose quick feet allowed him to poke the ball into team-mate Mkhitaryan’s path and the Armenia international struck for the third time in this season’s competition.

Home comforts

Rostov entered the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group behind Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. In fact, they managed to beat the German champions at home – though that was their only victory from six games.

A team without any household European names, they struggled to impose themselves against far superior opponents in the opening period.

But on 53 minutes, Kalachev’s raking pass sailed between defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and Bukharov calmly controlled the ball on his chest and slotted in.

Skipper Aleksandr Gatskan struck a long-range shot straight at Sergio Romero late on, but the draw meant Rostov have lost just one of their past eight games at home in Europe.

More to follow. – All News First!

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