Manchester United now move on quickly to Sunday's Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium. A soporific evening added to the unwanted statistic of Sir Alex Ferguson's team conceding first – a 15th time in 23 outings – but with a second string selected for what was a dead rubber for United, if not for Cluj, not much should be read into this defeat.
Ferguson knows the comical defending from his first choice players that is causing too many scares could be costly against City. "The experienced players have got to get their act together, it's as simple as that," the United manager said.
Only Wayne Rooney was selected from the team who squeezed out a 4-3 win at Reading last Saturday. "I put a young side out tonight and I thought they did very well at times," Ferguson said.
"The pitch was a bit dead with frost on it. I'm satisfied they put a decent performance in. I think a lot of them have got experience out of this. Young [Nick] Powell, I thought did quite well for us in the first half at 18 years of age. Phil Jones had an excellent game in what was only his second game in about nine months here, so I'm really pleased with that part.
"We qualified early [to the knockout stages]. After that we experimented and played the players who needed a game, gave some young players a bit of experience. That will stand them in good stead. We go into the next stage as winners but we could face Shakhtar Donetsk, Milan, Porto – there are some big names in there."
The scenario for United made a sleepwalking display the favourite and so it proved. United were though as Group H winners while Cluj hoped to better Galatasaray's result. The Turkish side, however, joined United in the last 16 by winning 2-1 at Braga and going through with a better head-to-head record against Cluj.
United started the brighter side. A sharp twist and run from Javier Hernández finished with a pass that split Cluj's defence and Rooney, again playing on the right, drove in a ball that produced the opening corner. It was taken by Ryan Giggs, who had an uneven outing, while Danny Welbeck's near-post header was misdirected.
Cluj's best early opportunity fell to Modou Sougou but his drive was deflected wide by Scott Wootton, with Rooney blocking a Camora shot from the ensuing corner.
United woke up a little as half-time approached. Tom Cleverley, replaced just before the break by Paul Scholes due to a calf injury that might rule him out of the derby at City, was sent clean through but his touch was clumsy.
Welbeck looked to have headed home a Rooney corner but the ball was plucked off the line by Mário Felgueiras and moments later a clever Rooney chip came close to lobbing the keeper. Chris Smalling had perhaps United's best chance but he steered a free header wide of Felgueiras's left-hand post.
An Alexander Büttner free-kick that was sprayed too high and a Rooney free-kick that hit the defensive wall after Powell had been hacked down were the second half's opening incidents.
Powell then sweetly plopped a ball over a few Cluj heads into Rooney's path but an awkward touch became an unwanted backpass to Felgueiras.
Luis Alberto then made his mark. Powell might have done better with a Scholes pass aimed at him inside the Cluj half. Instead, he was dispossessed and when the ball came to Alberto he skipped forward and let fly a 25-yard shot that pinged in off David de Gea's left-hand post.
"It was a wonder goal which beat us and we didn't deserve that," Ferguson said. "We had a lot of good chances and to lose a goal like that, you can have no complaints. There's nothing you can do about it. The real tournament starts end of February, the knockout stage is fantastic."