Robin van Persie scored two as Man United came from behind to win in Romania
Preamble: Brothers and sisters, we are gathered here tonight to celebrate this thing called CFR Cluj v Manchester United in the Champions League. It's the second Group H game for each side and both can consider themselves lucky to have three points on the board in the wake of less than impressive openers.
While they'll happily take it, only the most blinkered United fan would claim their side's win against Galatasaray at Old Trafford was not mired in good fortune. The Turkish side will remain mystified by the referee's decision not to award them a penalty for Nemanja Vidic's blatant foul on Umut Bulut in a match that will otherwise be remembered for Michael Carrick's composure in front of goal, Nani's lack of it and the welcome return to action from illness of Darren Fletcher.
Boasting considerably less Champions League pedigree than their visitors tonight, Romanian champions CFR Cluj got their campaign off to a winning start with a heroic 2-0 away win over FC Braga. Brazilian midfielder Rafael Bastos availed of his counter-attacking side's only two shots on goal to bag a brace against his former club. They'd probably gnaw your hand off if you offered them a point in the DR Constantin Radulescu Stadium tonight, but are an outside bet to get one.
CFR who? You may not know a great deal about them, but CFR Cluj are no mugs. They've won their last five Champions League matches (including qualifiers), but have been less than impressive on the home front and are currently lying sixth in the Romanian top flight, nine points off the pace being set by Steaua Bucharest after 10 games. Even though they hammered Gloria Bistrita 5-1 at the weekend, it would be a big surprise if they were to nick even one point from tonight's match.
The Cluj manager speaks: CFR have a few players with experience in the Champions League and we have the whole of Romania behind us," said Cluj manager Ioan Andone in the build-up to this evening's fixture." I hope our enthusiasm will make a difference. If we manage to score, we will have a chance. I don't think you can speak about fear against United. If we won it would bring prestige and six points in the group, which is very important. It would be huge for Cluj and Transylvania too."
The Manchester United manager speaks: "I watched the games against Basel and Braga and I would pick out Rafael Bastos [as the main threat]," said Sir Alex Ferguson in his pre-match presser. "CFR are a team who defend quickly and get plenty of bodies behind the ball. Their main strength is the counter-attack, as they showed against Braga. Counter-attacking is very important in European football these days. Their strongest point is they have got three points. They play us tomorrow and then two games against Galatasaray. They need secen more points from five games and they will qualify."
Manchester United team news: Sir Alex Ferguson makes six changes from the team that was beaten by Spurs on Saturday. David De Gea is in goal, but the somewhat porous back four of Messrs Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans and Evra remains intact. Anderson, Tom Cleverly and Darren Fletcher are named in a three-man midfield, while Wayne Rooney joins Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez in a front three that could fill their boots against a side that's conceded in 10 of their last 12 games.
CFR Cluj-Napoca: Mario Felgueiras, Sepsi, Cadu, Rada,
Ivo Pinto, Sougou, Aguirregaray, Muresan, Camora, Bastos, Kapetanos.
Subs: Stancioiu, Diogo Valente, Nicoara, Maftei, Piccolo, Bjelanovic, Luis Alberto.
Manchester United: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Cleverley, Anderson, Fletcher, Rooney, Hernandez, van Persie.
Subs: Lindegaard, Nani, Welbeck, Powell, Kagawa, Buttner, Wootton.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
Interesting trivia (depending on your point of view): There are 13 different nationalities represented in tonight's starting 22: Brazil, England, France, Greece, Mexico, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Senegal, Spain and Uruguay.
Manchester United field one Spaniard, two Brazilians, three Englishmen, a Frenchman, a Scot, a Mexican, a Dutchman and a Norn Ironer. CFR Cluj's line-up comprises four Portuguese, three Romanians, a Uruguayan, a Senegalese, a Greek and a Brazilian.
An amusing start to the evening: This match is being broadcast on ITV and presenter Adrian Chiles and his analysts Gareth Southgate and Lee Dixon are standing pitchside. As they discussed the line-ups, somebody had the bright idea of the turning on the pitch sprinklers behind them. Sadly, they appeared to be standing this much out of range and managed to avoid a proper soaking, although they did get liberally sprayed.
Some reader emails: "Alphabetised countries - the true sign of the obsessive," writes John out in China. "Fine work, sir."
"Some interesting points in your preamble, but I can't help feeling you're missing the truly important information," writes Matt Dony. "Exactly what did Fergie make of the Ryder Cup win?"
"Not to be stereotypical, but given that one of the greatest Romanian exports is this fellow, is anyone else hoping that the stadium announcer takes tonight's attendance manually and says 'A ha-ha!' after each number?" asks Ryan Dunne.
Click-clack! Click-clack! Click-clack! The teams emerge from the tunnel and ITV immediately cut to an advert break.
1 min: Manchester United kick off playing from right to left and with their players wearing white shirts, shorts and socks. Cluj's player's wear burgundy coloured shirts with white triangles under the arms, burgundy shorts and burgundy socks.
2 min: Manchester United concede the first corner of the match and Rafael Bastos prepares to swing it in from the left. His delivery to the near post is excellent and Modou Sougou leaps highest to send a header flashing wide of the far post off Darren Fletcher.
3 min: Bastos takes the second corner and sends this one towards the far post in a bid to pick out the centre-half Cadu. He does exactly that, but the ball's a mite too high for the Portuguese defender and he sends it high and wide under pressure from Rio Ferdinand.
6 min: Manchester United ping the ball around the edge of the final third trying to find an opening past the 10 men CFR Cluj have behind the ball. A rogue pass gifts possession to the home side and they attempt to attack on the break.
8 min: I can see a theme developing here. As expected, CFR Cluj have dug in on the edge of their own penalty area and are showing no inclination to take the match to Manchester United. It's fairly understandable, considering their success against Braga, when they won 2-0 after having two shots on goal compared to their opponents' 38.
12 min: Modou Sougou, who wears the No99 on his back, has gone down injured inside his own half after coming out second best from a challenge with Anderson. Apart from the two corners, that's been the highlight of the opening 10 minutes.
GOAL! CFR Cluj 1-0 Manchester United (Kapetanos 13) Manchester United go behind to asn early goal once again. From inside his own half, Rafael Bastos picks out Sougou on the right flank with a marvellous long diagonal pass. With Patrice Evra nowehre near him, the right-winger crosses low and hard into the centre, where the unmarked Antelis Kapeanos sweeps the ball into the bottom left-hand corner from eight yards or so.
15 min: United's defence pick up where they left off on Saturday, standing off an opposition striker and allowing him too much time when they should have closed him down. Alone and without help in front of Evans and Ferdinand, Kapetanos was given far too much time on the ball before scoring. The only resistance he met was a lazy leg waved in his general direction by Evans when he was unleashing his shot past De Gea.
18 min: Fletcher and Rooney combine well on the edge of the Cluj penalty area and the latter fires off a shot from just outside the D. Goalkeeper Mario Felgueras puts it out for a corner, from which Manchester United win another one.
19 min: From the second corner, the ball breaks to Hernandez in the Cluj penalty area with his back to goal. He plays it back to Anderson, who tries to pick his spot and side-foots the ball a couple of feet past the left upright.
21 min: Another enterprising attack down the right flank from CFR Cluj, with defensive midfielder Matias Aguirregaray picking out Sougou with a long pass. The winger is unable to keep his footing and slips, allowing Manchester United to clear.
23 min: United attack down the centre, with Tom Cleverley picking out Robin van Persie with a first-time ball that takes four defenders out of the equation. With his first touch, Van Persie sends the ball skidding not too far wide of the left upright.
25 min: CFR Cluj substitution: Modou Sougou off, Luis Alberto on. The provider for the opening goal is forced off with an injury sustained in a collision with Anderson some minutes ago. "I don't think Patrice Evra will be shedding any tears to see the back of him," says Andy Townsend on ITV.
26 min: More patient build-up play from Manchester United's players as they try in vain to find a way through the packed Cluj defence. Nobody could mistake them for Barcelona as it all looks a bit slow and ponderous. The home fans are whistling relentlessly, presumably in a bid to get the referee to blow for half-time a bit early.
GOAL! CFR Cluj 1-1 Manchester United (Van Persie 29): Manchester United win a free-kick on the left flank, which Wayne Rooney whips into the penalty area. Standing unmarked, Robin van Persie leaps and misses the ball with his head, but gets a lucky break when it hits his shoulder, loops over the goalkeeper and drops under the crossbar and into the back of the goal.
32 min: Good play again from Cleverley, who picks out Javier Hernandez on the edge of the penalty area. The Mexican unleashes a snap-shot that's on target, but not hit with enough venom to trouble Mario Felgueiras in the Cluj goal.
34 min: Possession stats: CFR Cluj 30%-70% Manchester United. Cluj get the ball out of their own half and it's whipped into the Manchester United penalty area from the left. Pantelis Kapetanos is the only player within 30 yards of it, but it doesn't go anywhere near him.
35 min: Hernandez dinks the ball between centre-back and right-back for Robin van Persie to chase and the Dutchman shjoots low and diagonally from left to right. Goalkeeper Felgueiras stays on his feet and blocks the shot.
37 min: Darren Fletcher links up with Cleverley and Anderson before sending a cross to the far post towards Van Persie. Cluj right back Ivo Pinto heads clear.
39 min: "I think Andy Townsend may have spoken too confidently re Evra (25 min)," writes Hugh Collins. "If Celtic can win an away game in the Champion's League, then I wouldn't be that surprised to see an adult defender reduced to tears by the sight of an opponent's back."
42 min: Manchester United win a corner off Ivo Pinto and Wayne Rooney sends it towards Robin van Persie at the far post. He's beaten in the air and CFR Cluj embark on another of their trademark counter-attacks, only for Gabriel Muresan to to drag a shot wide of David De Gea's goal.
43 min: Another United chance, but by no means a gilt-edge one. Rafael crosses to the edge of the penalty area, where Wayne Rooney is forced to lean backwards before directing a weak header harmlessly wide.
45 min: It's half-time. After falling behind once again, Manchester United go in all square at half-time courtesy of a Robin van Persie fluke. They've been vastly superior to CFR Cluj, but have looked anything but clinical up front or at the back. Elsewhere in this group, Portuguese side Braga lead Galatasaray 1-0.
Random half-time observations
• Wayne Rooney still looks to be carrying a bit too much timber; or at least looks very, very laboured. He's pouring with sweat compared to the other players, but then he has been out for a while.
• All Manchester United's chances have been created through the middle of the poitch, which is unsurprising considering they're playing without any wingers.
• Manchester United need to bring on a winger.
• Manchester United's defending for the goal they conceded was hideously bad. Evra was caught hopelessly out of position, which allowed Cluj winger Sougou to cross.
• When the cross went into the penalty area, Kapetanos got the better of both Evans and Ferdinand, when they should have been able to deal with him comfortably.
Alex Ferguson's half-time interview: "Our passing and intensity of possession has been good, but losing that goal the way we did was a shocker ... an absolute shocker. The way they play everyone is behind the ball, so it's going to be difficult to get width. They're just sitting in there and hoping we make mistakes."
Second half: No changes on either side as the home team kicks off. If you haven't l;istened to this Monday's Football Weekly podcast yet, then shame on you. It was presented by Soccer Am's Max Rushden, who left the studio to hop on a train to Manchester, from where he was flying to Cluj to support the Romanian champions in this match.
47 min: Wayne Rooney tries his luck with a long-range effort which the goalkeeper puts out for a corner from which nothing comes.
GOAL! CFR Cluj 1-2 Manchester United (Van Persie 48) Great goal from Manchester United, which has its origins on the right flank. With the ball at his feet and lots of time on his hands, Wayne Rooney looks up and sends a splendid diagonal pass up and under into the corridor of uncertainty between goalkeeper and back four for Robin van Persie to chase. The Dutchman beats the dithering goalkeeper to the dropping ball, cocks his left leg like a dog taking a pee on a lamp-post and dinks it into the bottom left-hand corner.
53 min: Another lapse in concentration by Manchester United's defenders almost lets Kapetanos in for a second. Muresan squares the ball low and hard from the right and, with Evans and Ferdinand standing off him again, the Cluj striker has all the time in the world to slash it high over the crossbar. If he'd hit the target there, who knows what might have happened?
55 min: "While we're on the subject of random observations, did you know that basic gingerbread is a mixture of flour, brown sugar, golden syrup and cinnamon?" asks Simon McMahon. "And that Grasmere in Cumbria is considered the home of gingerbread? Yes, I'm having to watch the great British Bake-Off and follow the footie on the minute-by-minute."
56 min: If Manchester United's players are trying to wind up their manager and ensure a long, fraught trip home from Romania, they're doing a very good job. Cluj win a corner, the ball's sent in from the right and Cadu rises completely unmarked at the back post to send a bullet header flashing wide of the left upright. He runs back into position with his head in his hands, berating himself for not doing better.
59 min: United earn some respite after a five-minute period of sustained Cluj pressure, when Rafael Da Silva wins a free-kick wide on the right flank from his namesake Rafael Bastos in the Cluj side.
59 min: From the edge of the final third, Matias Aguirregaray tries to play Pantelis Kapetanos through for a one-on-one with De Gea with a stabbed pass along the deck for the striker to chase. Rio Ferdinand makes a crucial interception.
60 min: CFR Cluj substitution: Goalscorer Kapetanos off, to be replaced by Croatian one-cap wonder Sasa Bjelanovic.
64 min: Decent enough play from United, who carve Cluj open down the right flank, before Anderson squanders possession by sending a deep looping cross way too near the goalkeeper.
65 min: Cleverly tries to play Javier Hernandez through on goal with a ball through a gap between two players in the Cluj defence, but the Little Pea is flagged for offside.
68 min: With nothing else going on, fancy getting strafed with my stat gun? It's not as unpleasant as it sounds. Passes completed: Cluj 152-473 Manchester United.
70 min: Excellent play by Manchester United, with Rooney linking up beautifully with Tom Cleverley down the inside left. The midfielder plays a weighted pass along the deck for Rooney to pull back towards Van Persie, who stretches out a leg and misses making contact by this much.
"Shouldn't basic gingerbread contain ginger?" asks Daniel Stauss in response to Simon McMahon (55 mins). "Isn't that the whole point of gingerbread? If you type the word ginger enough times, your fingers lose all sense of feeling."
74 min: Evra goes to ground in the Cluj penalty area while trying to get on the end of a pull-back from Robin van Persie. The referee gestures to the Frenchman to get to his feet. While I can't be certain it shouldn't have been a spot-kick without seeing a replay, it didn't look like one on first viewing.
76 min: After coming in from the left flank, Hernandez plays the ball out of the penalty area to Rooney, who tries to pick out Robin van Persie with a dinked ball over the top. There isn't quite enough weight on his pass and Cluj clear.
78 min: Pass. Probe. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Probe. Lay off. Pass. Pass. Probe. Lay off. Pass. Probe. Clatter. Peep! Free-kick.
79 min: Having made his debut for Manchester United in the Capital One Cup against Newcastle last week, Scott Wootton now makes his Champions League bow. The 21-year-old from Birkenhead replaces Jonny Evans, who has been nursing a dead leg all evening.
80 min: Cluj substitution: Matias Agiurregaray off, 24-year-old left-footed midfielder Viorel Nicoara on. He's not from Birkenhead.
83 min: Manchester United substitution: Little Pea off, Danny Welbeck on.
84 min: With just seven minutes to go, this match is being played at a very pedestrian pace. Manchester United are looking very comfortable in possession, but are just one gaffe or long-range howitzer away from having to share the points here. That would be calamitous, despite them have been drawn in a group that looked even easier than the one they usually get.
85 min: I've been very impressed with Tom Cleverley tonight. His performance was no-frills and efficient, while his movement has been good and his short passing has been very neat and effective. Rio Ferdinand gets booked for a high challenge on Rafael Bastos, who he hoofs in the stomach as the pair contest a 50-50 ball.
88 min: David De Gea wins a free-kick after being clattered by Sasa Bjelanovic with a late challenge as he plucked the ball from the sky. He did well to hold on to that ball despite the mid-air collision. Remember the amount of abuse and ridicule he was subjected to by assorted armchair goalkeeping experts, who were very quick to write off a 21-year-old off because he occasionally looked dodgy under a high ball? I do.
90 min: Manchester United win a throw-in deep in Cluj territory, but their hosts win possession back and launch another counter-attack. Ivo Pinto gets in a cross from the right and David De Gea saves brilliantly from a Rafael Bastos bullet-header after the Brazilian steals in unmarked at the near post. Corner for Cluj ...
90+3 min: After his comments on Saturday, we can only presume that Sir Alex Ferguson is delighted with all this injury-time the referee is playing; Cluj are certainly trying to make the most of it. United fail to clear the corner properly, the ball falls kindly for Ionel Rada on the edge of the penalty area and he pulls the trigger only to see his effort blocked by a desperate Rafael lunge.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeeep! It's all over. Manchester United do just enough to hold on for the win against a very limited team who will consider themselves unlucky not to have stolen a point in the dying seconds of injury time. While Alex Ferguson will be relieved to get out of Romania with the win, must be seriously concerned with his side's many shortcomings in defence.
On a far more important note: "Daniel Stauss is probably right," writes Simon McMahon of the great ginger-free gingerbread debate. "I think the ingredients I listed are those required for the basic dough to which the ginger is then added. It would certainly be a bit strange if ginger was absent from gingerbread. I wasn't really paying attention to be honest. Paul Hollywood can rest easy."
Elsewhere in Group H: Braga have beaten Galatasaray 2-0 in Istanbiul, which means Manchester United are top with six points from two games, Cluj and Braga next on three points each and Galatasaray are whipping them in on no points.