With the crowd volume and temperature dipping together, the game needed a lift and not the enforced lull when Nick Powell received a heavy blow to his torso. Fears of a rib injury dispelled, the midfielder played on and unleashed a handful of shots with typical confidence. One led to a shout in vain for handball, another driven into the ground presented Smalling with a half chance, his flicked header landing on the roof of Cluj’s net.
Still bidding for a place alongside United in the next round, the Romanians mounted offensives of their own, only to be twice thwarted by two men born on Merseyside. Firstly, Wootton matched Modou Sogou for pace and blocked his shot with a brilliant challenge; next, Wayne Rooney took his deeper role to extremes with a timely clearance inside the six-yard box. De Gea also had another save to make when Cluj defender Felice Piccolo made a powerful connection with a corner and headed down at the young Spaniard’s feet.
De Gea’s opposite number Mario Felgueiras denied both Welbeck and Rooney in the same spell of United pressure shortly before half-time, acrobatically palming away the former’s header and then the latter’s chip, both with his left hand. But the Cluj keeper and captain should have been beaten when Javier Hernandez kept the attack alive and whipped a cross into the danger zone – Smalling’s reaction to nodding the ball off target said as much.
Sir Alex made his first substitution just before the break, sending on Paul Scholes for Tom Cleverley who had presumably picked up a knock.
Scholes’ challenge early in the second half was to try and unlock a Cluj defence that appeared to be set up for a draw. But appearances can be deceptive – just 11 minutes after the interval, the Romanian side broke out to devastating effect when the Reds lost possession inside the centre