MAN UNITED 1, OMONOIA NICOSIA 0
Substitute Scott McTominay’s injury-time matchwinner spared Manchester United the acute embarrassment of being held at home by minnows Omonoia Nicosia.
It looked like the Reds would be held until McTominay struck at the death in the third of five added minutes just as it looked as though victory would elude them.
Jadon Sancho, another substitute, provided the assist with a low cross which somehow found McTominay eight yards from goal. And the Scot showed great footwork to create space to shoot low past goalkeeper Francis Uzoho for his first goal of the season.
It ended the heroic resistance of the visitors who came close to producing one of the greatest results in the history of Cypriot football.
It had been a hugely frustrating night for the Reds who created 34 goal attempts, the most created by any team in the Europa League this season.
An incredible 10 of them fell to Marcus Rashford, the most by any player in the competition this season.
But it was a case of wayward finishing and heroic goalkeeping from Nigerian international goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, a Reds’ fan who only got the call when Brazilian first choice stopper Fabiano.
Uzoho, 23, pulled off a string of brilliant saves to keep United at bay until he was finally beaten in the 93rd minute as the Reds strengthened their hold on second spot in Group E.Embed from Getty Images
Nicosia manager Neil Lennon was “absolutely gutted” to come so close to getting a point.
Lennon said: “I am very proud of my team and the way we defended. Manchester United deserved to win but to put on a display like that was beyond my expectations.
“We are one or two minutes away from probably the greatest result in the club’s history.
“When you play a team of their calibre against a team of our calibre, you need your goalkeeper to play well, and he was world class.
“I am absolutely gutted not to have got a draw. If we had done so, it would have been up there for me along with Celtic beating Barcelona.”
Ten Hag admitted Uzoho’s many saves kept Nicosia in the game.
“The performance up to the box was good, but the finishing was not good. Hopefully we are saving that for the next game.”
United’s manager denied his side have any issues with goalscoring.
He said: “In every game except Brentford we have scored.
“In this team there is a lot of creativity and scoring ability, but on this night some players were not right.
“But this team keeps going, does not give in and keeps believing. And it says a lot about the spirit in the squad that the substitutes make an impact when they have the right focus.”
Ten Hag made three changes to the side who beat Everton on the weekend.
Ronaldo started up front, while Casemiro retained his place in midfield.
Tyrell Malacia returned at left-back, replacing Luke Shaw, Fred came in for Christian Eriksen in midfield and the injured Anthony Martial was not in the squad.
United had 28 goal attempts in the first game in Cyprus and had two inside the opening two minutes.
Fred’s drive was deflected for a corner from which Bruno Fernandes’ short kick found Marcus Rashford who bent an effort towards the top corner only for Uzoho to brilliantly turn over the shot, the first of his many important saves.
Ronaldo also fired an effort into the side netting, Rashford had a shot well blocked by Uzoho and Fernandes bent a shot narrowly wide as it looked only a matter of time before the Reds made a breakthrough.
Rashford forced a great flying save from Uzoho and he could easily have scored a hat-trick in the goalless opening half hour.
The chances continued to be created in a one-sided opening half as Ronaldo’s shot flashed wide, Casemiro’s drive was brilliantly turned on to the bar by the busy Uzoho and Fred headed over from close range when he ought to have hit the target.
The Cypriots had their first chance in the 42nd minute after a swift two versus two counterattack.
Brazilian Bruno cut inside and blazed over when he ought to have done better, evidence that United needed to remain switched on at the back.
Casemiro headed wide on the stroke of half time, United’s 15th goal attempt of the opening period. The only surprise was the game was still goalless.
United almost went ahead within the opening 20 seconds of the second half when Uzoho made a super double save to deny Antony and Rashford’s follow-up which was clawed out.
Fred then had a shot saved and Rashford raced clear but amazingly fired wide as it remained one-way traffic.
United made a double change on the hour as Antony and Tyrell Malacia made way for Jadon Sancho and Shaw.
It remained ridiculously one sided, but United were unable to unlock the Nicosia side’s defence.
United made a third change with 20 minutes left, Eriksen replacing Fred and that was followed by the introduction of McTominay for Casemiro.
And within one minute, McTominay had forced another excellent save from Uzoho.
Nicosia’s defence held firm as United pressed for a winning goal until it was finally breached in the 93rd minute to the anguish of the near 5,000 visiting fans who had been their side’s 12th man.