Fresh off the back of their hard earned point at Anfield, United travelled to Bucharest to face Champions League debutants Otelul Galati. Having only managed two points from their opening group games, only a win would allow United some space to breathe in a group which on paper seemed relatively straight forward. With one eye on the Manchester derby at the weekend, there was some doubt about the strength of United’s starting line up prior to the game, however a strong side took to the field, with Fergie clearly appreciating the importance of three points in this fixture. Nemanja Vidic returned to the starting line up for the first time since the opening day of the season, providing the reds solidity at the back, and a huge boost ahead of the big match on Sunday.
With the expectation that United would easily overwhelm their inexperience opponents, the reds made a very disappointing start to the match under the weight of this, giving the ball away sloppily, and failing to supply Javier Hernandez the service to do what he does best. With Nani, and Antonio Valencia both coming in off their flanks, United struggled to find sufficient width to stretch the Galati defence, who seemed comfortable with the game being played infront of their back four. Whilst possession didn’t seem a problem for United, who were dominating large spells of the opening half, some sloppy individual errors nearly gave the home side a shock lead, as Nemanja Vidic carelessly gave the ball away on the edge of the box, allowing Punosevac to shoot tamely at Lindegaard in a half which failed to provide any real talking points.
After a quite frankly dire first half, the second could only be an improvement, as United looked for what was a crucial breakthrough in a must win game. As the reds cranked up the pressure, they were met by some fierce Galati challenges, with the home side boied by the prospect of a famous point against United. However, their dogged defending came undone on the hour mark, as Rooney’s cross was blatantly handballed by Galati defender Costin, leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot. Costin was fortunate to have stayed on the pitch given that he had clearly prevented a goal scoring opportunity for the unmarked Hernandez, but Rooney made no mistake from the spot allowing United to breathe a huge sigh of relief. With a goal lead, it seemed United were in for a comfortable finale against opponents who would likely tire towards the closing stages of the match, however, a major spanner was thrown into the works just a minute after the goal, as captain Nemanja Vidic was inexplicably sent off for a late challenge on the half way line. Replays showed that a yellow card at worst seemed the more appropriate punishment, and ultimately set up a tense finale in what should have been a comfortable game.
With their tails up, and United’s defence in confusion, Galati poured forward sensing their opportunity to snatch a result from a seemingly unlikely position. The excellent Michael Carrick came to United’s rescue with a last ditch block from the lively Antal as the reds frantically tried to re organise and stem the momentum. Phil Jones and Jonny Evans came on for United, and calm was restored as the home side chased and chased but to little avail in an alarm free final ten minutes. With only injury time to come, the numbers were evened up as Milan Perendija was shown his marching orders for a second yellow card, and the game was wrapped up two minutes later, as Rooney was fouled in the box for United’s second penalty of the night, which the England striker comfortably dispatched to give the reds a much needed victory.
Lindegaard – 6 Little to do throughout, kicking was careless at times.
Fabio – 6 Strong going forward, little defending to do.
Smalling – 7 Pace, power, anticipation, another strong performance.
Vidic – 6 Lacked match fitness,unlucky to have been sent off.
Evra – 7 Arguably United’s best attacking threat during first half.
Valencia – 5 Lack of a left foot shown up, reluctant to take on full back.
Carrick – 7 MOTM Much maligned, but very composed performance.
Anderson – 6 Couldn’t find the penetration required to unpick Galati.
Nani – 6 Faired much better on prefered right wing.
Rooney – 7 Well taken penalties, all round play could be better.
Hernandez – 5 Not his best night in a red shirt.
Jones – 6 Restored calm to a panicky defence.
Evans – 6 Likewise Jones.