Manchester United 1 FC Astana 0
Mason Greenwood blasted himself into the Manchester United history books as he opened his senior goal account with a Europa League winner against FC Astana at Old Trafford
The Bradford-born forward won’t be 18 for another 12 days and his excellently finished 73rd-minute goal on his senior starting debut made him the club’s youngest ever scorer in Europe.
Marcus Rashford was the previous holder of that title, when he scored in the Europa League against Midtjylland in 2016 aged 18 years and 117 days. But Greenwood obliterated that record to win a frustrating Group L opener against the Kazakhstan side.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said before the match that while the young players were out there to enjoy the occasion, as Greenwood certainly did, it was his more experienced men who were there to win it.
One of them, Fred, almost got the Reds off to a flyer. The Brazilian may not be a regular starter yet but at 26 years of age, he knows senior football and the European scene well enough to be an example to his younger team-mates.
After just three minutes, he was shaking the rust off his boots and attempting to grab his opportunity by cracking a superb left-foot blockbuster against the crossbar. The woodwork shook, marking the start of a parade of attacks for United with the Kazakhstan side pinned back and desperately holding out.
Rashford, only 21 himself but with a growing CV of matches, had a free-kick deflected over and twice had close-range efforts blocked instinctively by Astana keeper Nenad Eric.
The Mancunian also cutely flicked a ball into Greenwood’s path but the younger striker didn’t put quite enough curl on his left-footed effort for it to creep into the net and mark his first senior match of the season and first start in Europe with an early goal.
Tahith Chong was also in on the early action with a near-post shot that Eric kept out.
After so much one-way traffic, United had a lapse of concentration in the 37th minute when Astana broke from the halfway line.
Had Roman Murtazayev had more pace and composure, then Sergio Romero and the Reds could have been in for a huge, awakening shock. Fortunately, Murtazayev took his shot early, it was a weak one and Romero was easily able to ruin the no.45's potential big Old Trafford moment.
After the early burst of chances, United’s efforts in front of goal fell away and a number of final balls cost the opportunity to seriously test goalkeeper Eric again before the interval.
Greenwood again couldn’t quite get the necessary bend on a left-footed shot as the half came to a close with the Reds still unable to break the yellow blockade.
Just like Fred almost gave the Reds an early first-half breakthrough, the experience of Marcos Rojo almost set up a blistering second-half opening.
The Argentina international, playing as an attacking left-back, fired in a cross-shot in the 47th minute that was nearly a gift for Chong as he flung himself in at the far post but couldn’t quite connect to score.
Greenwood then came close as a scramble in the box from a corner saw him take a reaction stab at the ball; his effort took a deflection and trickled just wide.
The post-interval action was a carbon copy of the first half with United having some decent chances and that pattern continued after 55 minutes when Rashford blasted a dipping free-kick that just failed to come down under the bar and instead ended up in the front seats of the Stretford End.
Astana were living dangerously by offering the Reds a string of free-kicks from shooting distance. After 58 minutes, Fred took over the duty from Rashford and the South American’s low effort was bundled away by keeper Eric.
Just as Astana had sent a warning to United with a chance in the first 45 minutes, they did it again in the 61st minute when Marin Tomasov drifted over an inviting cross that substitute Rangelo Janga only just failed to get a dangerous contact on.
It had become a night of frustration for United with the threat on goal once again petering out after the early encouragement.
In a bid to inject some new life into his side and some more knowhow, Solskjaer replaced Gomes and Chong after 68 minutes, bringing on Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard in an effort to snatch a win from an increasingly disappointing evening.
However, having taken off a duo of teenagers, it wasn't the oncoming seniors who finally cracked it for the Reds.
It was the youngest player on the pitch, Greenwood, who conjured up a piece of magic that those older players would have been proud of.
Greenwood received the ball in the penalty area from Fred and completely bamboozled his marker with some tricky footwork before drilling in his first-ever United senior goal in the 73rd minute to light up Old Trafford and signal his arrival.
With the pressure eased, United began to enjoy going forward again, with Rojo sending a piledriver zipping just wide and sub Lingard smashing the woodwork. But nobody could add to Greenwood's goal and it was to be the teenager's night.
United: Romero, Dalot, Jones, Tuanzebe, Rojo (Young 78), Matic (captain), Fred, Chong (Lingard 68), Gomes (Mata 68), Greenwood, Rashford.
Subs not used: Grant, Maguire, McTominay, Garner
Goal: Greenwood (73)
Astana: Eric (captain); Shomko, Simunovic (Logvinenko 45), Postnikov, Rukavina, Maevski, Tomasevic, Tomasov, Sigurjonsson, Rotariu (Mubele 82), Murtazayev (Janga 45).
Subs not used: Mokin, Muzhikov, Beysebekov, Pertsukh.