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Man Utd’s players celebrate their 35th-minute opener at Rostov

Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored on his return from injury as Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw by Rostov in their Europa League last-16 first-leg tie.

The Armenia international had spent another spell on the sidelines with a hamstring injury, but started the game in Russia which went ahead despite concerns from Manchester United about the state of the pitch.

Mkhitaryan opened the scoring in the 35th minute after a cutback from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but United were pegged back by their hosts eight minutes after the break as Aleksandr Bukharov’s effort beat Sergio Romero.

Chances were mostly at a premium during the match and neither side could find another goal to take the aggregate advantage into next Thursday’s return leg at Old Trafford, although United do have an away goal in their favour.

The opening 30 minutes was a cagey affair as United adapted to the much-maligned pitch at the Olimp-2 Stadium, with the most interesting event early on being a substitution for Rostov as Vladimir Granat was replaced in the 18th minute by Denis Terentyev following a collision with Mkhitaryan.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic tussles with Aleksandr Gatskan during the Europa League fixture
Zlatan Ibrahimovic tussles with Aleksandr Gatskan during the Europa League fixture

The home side had a half-chance not long after the change as Marcos Rojo made a strong block to deflect Bukharov’s shot behind for a corner, but the resulting set-piece was fired straight into the hands of Romero.

United scored the all-important away goal with ten minutes of the first half to play as Marouane Fellaini did well to control Phil Jones’ long pass before releasing Ibrahimovic on the left-hand side of the box. The Swede then dinked the ball into the path of an unmarked Mkhitaryan who tapped home from close range.

Jose Mourinho’s side started with more vigour in the second half, as Ibrahimovic fired just over the bar within seconds of the restart before Ashley Young poked a fizzing cross past the post in the 52nd minute.

Paul Pogba fights for the ball with Rostov defender Fyodor Kudryashov
Paul Pogba fights for the ball with Rostov defender Fyodor Kudryashov

But 60 seconds later, Rostov surprisingly got themselves on level terms in what was a fine finish from Bukharov. The striker raced forward to meet an angled ball over the top from Timofei Kalachev, getting between Jones and Chris Smalling before thumping home past Romero to lift the home support.

Both sides could have doubled their lead in quick succession as Aleksandr Yerokhin got in behind the United back four in the 65th minute, but could only curl an effort wide before a strong Fellaini header from Daley Blind’s corner fell into the hands of Rostov goalkeeper Nikita Medvedev.

Rostov continued to push for another goal as the clock wore down with Kalachev going on a tricky run to the top of the box on 74 minutes before taking aim from the right-hand corner, but could only send it into the raucous home support.

Ibrahimovic crosses into the box during the match in Russia
Ibrahimovic crosses into the box during the match in Russia

Both goalkeepers were called into action in the final minutes with Medvedev coming off his line to punch away Blind’s free-kick before Romero collected a fizzing pass into the box from Kalachev and Alexandru Gatcan tried his luck with a long-range strike.

Anthony Martial could have been the hero for United with the final kick of the game as Fellaini headed down for the Frenchman, but he could not connect in the six-yard box to see the game end all square.

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