Marouane Fellaini scored a dramatic late winner to send United into the knockout stages of the Champions League with a game to spare.
The Reds beat Young Boys 1-0 thanks to the Belgian just as Jose Mourinho's men were fearing a last Group H match visit to Spain to face Valencia in a shoot-out decider. With Juventus beating the Spaniards in Turin, United were running out of time to avoid that December tense climax, before Fellaini struck in front of the Stretford End.
Mourinho implored his side in his pre-match press conference to be
“proactive” rather than reactive and he assembled a freshened up XI and ‘fast” personnel to deliver. His side responded to the message and the manager’s animated encouragement from the off on the bench.
The introduction of Fred in midfield and the plan of playing Marcus Rashford in the main striker’s role gave the Reds a lively and positive look that almost instantly paid off.
A Luke Shaw forward ball fell fortuitously into Rashford’s path after just five minutes and the Mancunian had the noisy, yellow cagoule-clad visiting support with early hearts in their mouths as he chipped just over. Fred followed that up with a stinging left foot drive that flashed a fraction over the bar.
The biggest concern, however, remained that United were not able to get off to a flyer in front of goal.
Rashford’s pace continued to give the Swiss a headache as he had the bulk of United’s efforts.
He was even able to get Young Boys back-pedalling and causing all sorts of mayhem but when the ball finally went loose Fred again hit another chance just off target.
At the start of the second half a deflected, looping Anthony Martial shot caused Young Boys goalkeeper David von Ballmoos problems clearing. The ball fell invitingly to Fellaini but he lifted his shot high into the Stretford End.
Perhaps sensing Ballmoos and Co might be susceptible to a bit of added muscle, Mourinho brought on Romelu Lukaku after 64 minutes for Jesse Lingard. Paul Pogba also replaced Fred and Pogba’s first touch set up Rashford for a lashing shot just wide.
The big worry remained that the Swiss were breaking on United at speed whenever possible and a four-on-three counterattack had the visiting support whipping off their yellow tops and waving them in support as they smelt blood.
It needed a quite brilliant reaction save from David De Gea in the 70th minute to stop the Young Boys followers from getting the breakthrough they were roaring for. A vicious free-kick soon after was also too close for comfort for the home fans.
United responded to the scares with sub Lukaku just steering a header wide as the minutes ticked by and that elusive qualifying win still out of reach.
But just when it seemed the Reds might be held to a draw, Lukaku glanced a header on and Fellaini controlled, turned and drove home the winner.
The joy and relief poured out in Mourinho as he grabbed a water bottle carrier at the side of the pitch and flung it into the ground spraying nearby stewards and fans. But nobody cared as the job was done.
United: De Gea, Valencia © (Mata 72), Smalling, Jones, Shaw, Matic, Fellaini, Fred (Pogba 64), Lingard (Lukaku 64), Martial, Rashford.
Subs not used: Romero, Bailly, Andreas, McTominay
Young Boys: von Ballmoos, Mbabu, Camara, Von Bergen (Garcia 45), Benita, Sulejmani, Sow, Lauper, Aebischer, Assale, Nsame (Moume Ngamaleu 82).
Subs: Wolfli, Bertone, Fassnacht, Schick, Seydoux
Bookings: Camara, Benito