Manchester United suffered a second consecutive slip-up in the Champions League on Wednesday evening as CFR Cluj came close to reaching the last 16 by the most unlikely of routes – a shock away win at Old Trafford.
In a largely forgettable game, the Romanian side scored a goal that should linger much longer in the memory – a second-half screamer by Luis Alberto. The Reds had no response to that, even if Mario Felgueiras was by far the busier goalkeeper in the second half, often besieged at the Stretford End by the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Cluj must have thought a clean sheet would be enough to take them into the last 16 with group winners United but alas their dream was shattered by Galatasaray winning the other concluding fixture away to Braga.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s programme-notes promise of “further European blooding” brought a first Champions League start for centre-back Scott Wootton – he made his debut as a substitute in the first meeting, in Romania – and another outing for Alexander Büttner at left-back. Meanwhile Marnick Vermijl, the young Belgian, watched from the bench in the hope of making his European bow.
Danny Welbeck is an experienced continental campaigner by comparison and he almost notched the third Champions League goal of his career early on when he made an intelligent run to the near post and glanced a header fractionally wide from Ryan Giggs’ right-wing corner. Giggs’ ball into the opposite area also created an opportunity, for Cluj, when Chris Smalling conceded possession and then diverted the resulting shot goalwards. Fortunately for the recalled defender, David De Gea made a reactive stop on his return to action, diverting the effort with his left thigh.