Full-time: United 1-0 Rostov

It was gruelling viewing at times and United also endured the frustration of losing Pogba and blind to injuries. But they won thanks to a goal by Mata and they are safely into the last eight of the Europa League, where no one will want to play them. And not many will want to watch them.

90+4 min: What a freekick! Noboa curled a beauty around the wall and towards the top corner. What a save! Romero acrobatically pushes it around the post! And on that note, the ref blows his whistle. United totter on!

Rostov’s Christian Noboa curls a last minute free-kick around the Manchester United wall but it was saved by United keeper Sergio Romero.
Rostov’s Christian Noboa curls a last minute free-kick around the Manchester United wall ... Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
Rostov's Cristian Noboa  takes a free-kick which is saved by Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero late in the game
But United keeper Sergio Romero is more than equal to it and claws it away from the top corner. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

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90+4 min: A final chance for Rostov, as Jones is unfairly punished for a fair aerial challenge. The freekick is about 28 yards out, quite central ...

90+2 min: United are seeing this game out well, finishing on the attack. No sign of Rostov forcing extra-time at this rate.

90 min: Ibrahimovic receives the ball just outside the box and tricks his way past one opponent. He clearly figures he deserves a goal so ignores team-mates and tries to dance past a couple more opponents and get off a shot himself. But he’s rumbled.

88 min: Bailly is down injured, clutching his shin after challenging Bukharov from behind. If that was a ploy to dupe the ref into thinking he hadn’t committed a foul, it worked because United have been awarded the freekick. Bailly clambers back to his feet.

86 min: Bukharov booked for taking out Fellaini in midfield after a nifty drab-back by the Belgian.

84 min:I say, Jones is growing into this role! He skips past two players down the left wing, bringing giddy olés from the crowd before running out of play! That’s the most fun we’ve had all evening.

82 min: Fellaini, in the playmaker role, fires the ball wide to Jones, in the scorching left winger role. A Rostov counter-attack is born.

Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini flicks the ball away from Rostov’s Aleksandr Erokhin.
Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini flicks the ball away from Rostov’s Aleksandr Erokhin. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

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79 min: Fine save by Romero! From out of nothing Rostov nearly snatched an equaliser, Bukharov getting a crafty header to a clever ball from deeper. Romero showed great reactions to dive to his right and tip it around the post!

77 min: That last four minutes felt like hours.

73 min: Rostov still only need a goal to take this to extra-time. Let’s hope they don’t get it because another 30 minutes of this dreary fare is no one’s idea of showbiz.

Jose Mourinho reacts as he watches from the touchline.
Jose Mourinho reacts as he watches from the touchline. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

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71 min: Rashford was apparently about to replace Mata before that goal. He’s been told to go sit down now. Mourinho, meanwhile, is standing on the sideline distributing bananas. Rojo chomps one down gratefully. Mourinho is blatantly trolling the yellow-clad visitors.

GOAL! United 1-0 Rostov (agg: 2-1) (Mata 71)

United strike on the counter-attack. Mata started it by winning the ball in midfield. Mkhitaryan then fired a low cross in from the right. Ibrahimovic tried to flick it into the net from six yards but only managed to help it on to the back post, where Mata arrived to convert an easy tap-in. So it has come to pass: Rostov loosened up and United took advantage. Mourinho’s masterplan bears fruit!

Juan Mata of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal.
Juan Mata of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal. Photograph: Philip Oldham/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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67 min: United have lapsed into ominous passivity, and Rostov are looking brighter. It really shouldn’t have been this laborious for United. Are they going to be punished?

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66 min: Rashford is one his feet on the sideline, seemingly getting instructions from the manager. “Keep it tight”, perhaps?

65 min: All told so far, this is a finely-poised, godawful game.

64 min: Nerves are a-jangling at Old Trafford as Rostov begin to rumble forward and cause a bit of bother. Bailly has just had to throw himself in front of a shot at the edge of the area, making a good block.

Rostov’s Miha Mevlja acrobatically attempts to control the ball.
Rostov’s Miha Mevlja acrobatically attempts to control the ball. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

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United substitution: Jones on, Blind off.

61 min: Actually, it seems Joens will come on for Blind, who appears to have suffered a bash on the head and is unable to continue.

Rostov substitution: Bukharov on, Azmoun on. Guess that means Rostov are going to try the aerial route. Mourinho seems to figure the same thing because he’s just told Phil Jones to warm up. “Even if no-one does ask you’re quite right that it’s been shoddy and shoddy again from Mourinho,” seethes Geoff Wignall. “If Rostov could have chosen which sub to come on for Pogba, I’m pretty sure they’d have gone for Fellaini too.”

58 min: There’s a lack of smoothness, speed and general derring-do from United. There’s the occasional burst from them, but mostly they’re serving up very lumpy porridge.

55 min: Herrera switches the play with a long crossfield pass to Valencia, who floats a cross from the right towards the penalty spot. Ibrahimovic nuts it over the bar.

52 min: Oh! Rostov have just mounted a dangerous counter-attack! And they darn near scored from it, too. Azmoun was the mischief-maker in chief, rolling the ball on to his left foot at the edge of the area and cracking a vicious curler towards the far corner. Romero flung himself to the right to make a decent save.

50 min: Blind goes on a gallop down the left, then curls a deep cross towards the Rostov penalty spot. Ibrahimovic gets a head to it, sending it more or less straight up into the air. He manages to collect it as it drops and offload to Mkhitaryan, who can’t get a shot away from 10 yards because he’s surrounded and pestered by four defenders. United are always far, far outnumbered in the opposing box. They’re going to have to address that if they’re to get the goals they need to stop worrying about an admittedly unlikely counter-attack by Rostov.

United substitution: Fellaini on, Pogba off.

47 min: Rostov send a freekick into the United area. It’s headed away. Pogba collects the bouncing ball just outside the box and flicks it over an opponent and sets off to retrieve it on the other side. And then he pulls up, wincing in pain! That looks like a hamstring pull. He can’t continue and trudges off looking dismayed but, at least, not in extreme pain. Mourinho’s decision is to replace him with Fellaini rather than Rashford. Shoddy again, if you ask me again.

46 min: No substitutions have been made by either manager. That’s shoddy from Mourinho, if you ask me.

“An American football coach once said that your record indicates who you are,” lectures Michael Kamenitsky. “To say otherwise is just wishful thinking. So, if during the first 40-some matches your players have been bouncing the ball off the woodwork and missing wide and high on easy chances then that’s who you are. To think otherwise might be insanity.”

Half-time: United 0-0 Rostov

United have dominated possession and fluffed a couple of clear chances but generally been frustrated by a well-organised and ultra-defensive Rostov side. They’re going through as things stand but they’d feel a lot more serene if they could get on the scoresheet. At some point Rostov will have to loosen up and go for a goal and that may be when United could strike. But they might do so sooner if they try to pull Rostov apart with some direct running and by sending more players into the box. Rashford needs to be on there, for starters.

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45+1 min: Rojo’s attempted shot from 35 yards falls to the feet of Ibrahimovic at the edge of the Rostov box. It runs away from the Swede to Pogba, who sets himself up for a shot with one slinky touch and then has a go from 20 yards. It’s well struck but not quite well enough to beat Medvedev, who has time to move across goal to bat it away with both hands.

43 min: Erokhin has a shot from 30 yards. You’ll not be reading about it in any match reports later.

42 min: United knock the ball around a bit ... and eventually work it to Bailly, who lofts it from his own half into the Rostov box. Easy fudge for the visitors, and a sign that United are running dry on ideas. Operation Frustration is working reasonably well for Rostov. But at some point they’re going to have to come out of their shell and go looking for the goal they need.

40 min: Pogba hoofs the freekick high and wide.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United takes a free kick.
That’s not going to trouble the Rostov keeper Nikita Medvedev. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

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39 min: Mata concedes a foul deep in Rostov territory, allowing the Russians to whack it out of there, at last. But it comes straight back. And within seconds Mata is fouled by Bamramyan in almost the same place where Rostov took the original freekick from. It’s within shooting range ...

36 min: I think it’s fair to say United don’t need three centrebacks here. They could replace one of them with Carrick and gain more creativity and thrust while still allowing Valencia and Blind to charge forward.

34 min: Herrera clips a nice ball into the left-hand channel for Ibrahimovic to chase. The Swede does just that. There’s a team-mates calling for a pass in the centre but Ibrahimovic instead turns on to his right foot and lets fly from the 15 yards. His ferocious shot whizzes past the keeper ... and crashes out off the far post!

Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic thumps a shot that rattles the woodwork.
Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic thumps a shot that rattles the woodwork. Photograph: Philip Oldham/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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31 min: I’m pretty sure that Rostov know they need an away goal, but for now all they can do is mass around their box and try to keep United at bay, which they are generally doing quite well, in fairness.

28 min: Mkhitaryan is sent clear on goal and attempts to clip the boucning ball past the advancing keeper. But he misjudges his shot and sends it a couple of yards wide from the edge of the box. Oh Mhiky, you’re not so fine!

United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Rostov’s keeper Nikita Medvedev
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Rostov’s keeper Nikita Medvedev watch as the United player’s shot goes the wrong side of the post. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

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26 min: The Old Trafford crowd, who had apparently been sleeping up till now, leap to their feet and howl for a penalty after Medvedev appears to push Mkhitaryan in the back to stop him from reaching the ball after a cross by Mata was deflected into the air by a defender. The keeper definitely put his hands on Mkhitaryan’s back but Im not sure he applied much force. And I only think they were demanding a penalty, but they may just have had a bad dream.

Rostov’s keeper Nikita Medvedev punches the ball clear.
Rostov’s keeper Nikita Medvedev punches the ball clear after laying hands on United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan as they went up for the ball. The ref ignored the appeals for a penalty. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

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24 min: United are finding it difficult to pick a way through Rostov’s massed defence. But they have just won a corner, as Blind made a burst down the let and was almost found by Ibrahimovic, whose smart pass was diverted out for a corner by Noboa.

22 min: Mata cross from the left, almost by the corner flag. It should be easy pickings for the keeper, but for some reason Medvedev decides to punch it, and he;s no John Prescott. But he’s lucky, as after his wafty slap the ball drops to one of his team-mates.

19 min: A bit of a magickus clumsicus at the moment, as Daniel Radcliffe might say. A scrappy spell, in more common parlance.

United’s Daley Blind and Rostov’s Sardar Azmoun tussle in the air.
United’s Daley Blind and Rostov’s Sardar Azmoun tussle in the air. Photograph: Magi Haroun/Rex/Shutterstock

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16 min: Mata chips a 30-yard pass over the Rostov defence. Medvedev hurtles out of his box to try to intercept it but Ibrahimovic gets to it first and nods it past the keeper. The Swede then retrieves the ball and manoeuvres himself into a shooting position, attempting to lob the ball over the backtracking defenders from a tight angle. It drops short. Worth nothing, by the way, that that counter-attack started when Pogba raced back to dispossess Azmoun, who was threatening to break towards the United area.

Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic goes past Rostov’s Nikita Medvedev.
Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic goes past Rostov’s Nikita Medvedev. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

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15 min: United seem to have found a decent rhythm and are stretching Rostov more and more. Valencia is causing lots of bother down the right and United are giving him good, swift service.

13 min: A fine, sweeping move by United. It was launched in midfield by Pogba, who fed Herrera, who pinged it wide to Valencia. He lashed in a fierce low cross from the right. But it was well defended by Rostov.

11 min: Valencia tears down the right and wins a corner as his cross id put behind by a defender. Mata takes it quick and short to Mkhitaryan and then receives a return pass and skitters into the area. But three defenders converge on him to stifle the danger.

9 min: Freekick to United after an attempted pass by Blind hits the arm of Terentyev, who could hardly get it out of the way. A harsh ruling by the ref. Ibrahimovic lets Rostov off by curling a weak freekick into the wall from 22 yards.

Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic poor attempt doesn’t breach the Rostov wall.
Manchester United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic poor attempt doesn’t breach the Rostov wall. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

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6 min: United are attempting to put Rostov back in their box in more ways than one. After the visitors’ uppity start, the home team have taken control of the game and are forcing the Russians to retreat ever deeper.

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4 min: Blind delivers an outswinging corner. Rojo eludes his marker and gets a firm header to it from nine yards. The keeper palms it up into the air and then makes another save when it drops to Ibrahimovic!

Zlatan Ibrahimovic sees his effort saved by Rostov keeper Nikita Medvedev.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic sees his effort saved by Rostov keeper Nikita Medvedev. Photograph: Philip Oldham/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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3 min: Pogba is making early efforts to run the game. He’s loping hither and thither to demand the ball. And now he’s won the first corner of the game ...

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2 min: Rostov have made a composed start, easing themselves into the game with some zippy passing the United half.

1 min: We have kickoff!

There are some people on the pitch … fortunately, it’s the players and officials. United are in what we may call their traditional tabloid kit (red tops) while Rostov are in an all yellow number. The officials appear to have been hired from a local Catholic church, wearing all black clobber with round white collars.

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“The stadium announcer/DJ at the Besiktas – Olympiakos game just played Zorba The Greek when Besikats scored their fourth - ouch!” yelps Pjotr van Rooijen.

Mourinho has just been speaking to BT and confirmed that he’s using a back three here. He also praised the grassy pitch, the weather and his opponents. Dear old Jose, always spreading good vibes. “The pitch is a good pitch. The weather is very nice for playing football, with a little bit of rain. But the pitch is better for both teams and they can play. They’re playing with Azmoun and Poloz up front, who are both creative, fast and very dynamic.”

Besiktas - despite having a man sent off in the first half - have just gone 4-1 up against Olympiakos (5-2 on aggregate), so there’s one potential opponents for the winners of the forthcoming bout at Old Trafford. Celta Vigo and Genk are looking like going through, too. Reckon the winners of the Roma-Lyon tie are the biggest threat to United (or Rostov), though.

No doubt who the visitors’ main danger man is today: Rostov’s 22-year-old forward Sardar Azmoun is nicknamed the Iranian Messi. Or the Iranian Mahrez or the Iranian Ibrahimovic, depending on who you listen to. I’ve even heard him called the Iranian Hoolahan, but that’s probably hyperbole. Anyway, here he is showing sumptuous deftness when scoring for his country against South Korea.

Teams

It looks like Mourinho has decided to go with a back three again. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Ivan Daniliants, seems to have only four available substitutes, according to the team sheet provided by Uefa.

United: Romero; Bailly, Smalling, Rojo; Valencia, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, Blind; Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic

Subs: De Gea, Jones, Lingard, Carrick, Young, Rashford, Fellaini

Rostov: Medvedev; Bayramyan, Mevlja, Navas, Kudryashov, Terentyev; Noboa, Prepelita, Erokhin; Poloz, Azmoun

Subs: Goshev, Kireev, Bukharov, Devic

Referee: G Mazeika (LTU)

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Preamble

Hello. Kindly leave your envy at the door and join us with pure hearts and minds to watch Manchester United’s attempt to reach the last eight of the Europa League, which is as far as they have ever got in the continent’s secondary competition. They are well placed to reach that landmark today, as they go into the home leg with a 1-1 away draw in their wallets while their opponents, who have yet to win on the road in Europe this season, have been shorn of three key players through suspension and injury (Vladimir Granat, Aleksandr Gatskan and Timofei Kalachev). Mind you, even if Rostov were at full-strength you’d fancy United to give them what for at Old Trafford unless, of course, your judgement were twisted by jealousy of Paul Pogba’s salary and cheery demeanour. In which case, thank goodness we have regular state of the nation addresses from Jose Mourinho to call people like you to rights.

Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial are unavailable to Mourinho today but those absences should be trifles, as Mourinho can still deploy a team that should be capable of devouring these mid-ranking Russian visitors. Doing so with a bit of panache and some good old goals would go some small way towards reassuring fans that United are on the way to becoming the force that they should be. For the moment, there are still doubts about that even if they’ve already won the first competition that they could have won under Mourinho. Adding the Europa League to their League Cup triumph would be splendid, both for the glory of winning a fine competition in its own right and for the fact that it would secure qualification for next season’s Champions League, which United might not reach through the Premier League because it’s the best in the world, as English clubs record in the Europa League clearly proves.

Winning is the main aim of the game today but Mourinho told us in another of his recent homilies that victory alone is not enough at the Theatre of Dreams. So here we are now, United, entertain us.

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