Partizan Belgrade 0 United 1
Anthony Martial's first-half penalty earned Manchester United a first away win since March and secured an important Europa League victory against Partizan Belgrade.
After Brandon Williams was brought down in the area, just before the break, Martial sent keeper Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way to bring to an end a streak of 11 games without a win on the road. With trips to Norwich on Sunday, Chelsea next Wednesday and Bournemouth on Saturday week, it was a very welcome three points and hopefully a change of fortunes for United away from home.
This was the first match in the double-header with Partizan, who sat level in the table on four points with the Reds at kick-off. It was only the second time the Reds' senior squad had been back in the Serbian capital since the Busby Babes played their last match together here before that fateful night in Munich in 1958. Earlier on matchday, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and club legends Bryan Robson and Mickey Thomas laid a wreath on the centre-circle in tribute to those who tragically lost their lives.
As attentions turned to the match itself, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sprung a number of changes before the game with a first start for James Garner in midfield, another outing for Brandon Williams and a full return for Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, following injuries to both. The manager stuck with three at the back again after it had worked so well against Liverpool, with Phil Jones coming in for Victor Lindelof, who was named on the bench. Harry Maguire, meanwhile, took the captain’s armband for the first time in his United career.
United had been warned it would be lively and pretty hostile ahead of the game and the Partizan fans certainly made themselves heard throughout the first half. Early sighters of goal were one apiece when former United man Zoran Tosic’s free-kick was headed over by the lively Umar Sadiq. Down at the other end, Juan Mata swung in an excellent set-piece to the far post but Scott McTominay couldn’t keep his header on target and it found the side-netting.
After McTominay had rolled another effort wide from the edge of the box, following good build-up play involving Jones, Lingard and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Lingard then saw his low effort come back off the post after Wan-Bissaka had won the ball brilliantly with a tackle 20 yards out.
As half-time approached, Partizan began to enjoy a sustained spell of pressure which resulted in Sadiq smashing a shot onto Sergio Romero’s far post and, just a couple of minutes later, Takuma Asano went for the same corner but fired just wide.
It was the Reds who finished the half on top though, thanks to a brilliant run forward from the impressive Williams. The youngster powered down the left and into the box before being tripped by Nemanja Miletic. The referee pointed to the spot and Martial despatched it with aplomb.
The Partizan players were at it from the off after the restart, with United doing well to hold firm. Bibras Natcho curled a free-kick just wide on 47 minutes before the referee dismissed claims for a Partizan penalty after Seydouba Soumah went down under a challenge by Jones. The baying home faithful wouldn’t agree but it looked like the correct decision.
The pressure continued from the hosts, however, as Soumah twisted and turned on the edge of the box before seeing his low drive brilliantly punched clear by Romero.
Marcus Rashford and Daniel James entered the fray on the hour-mark, in place of Martial and Wan-Bissaka, with Ole also switching to a back four. That seemed to curb the wave of Partizan attacks temporarily until Asano set off on a run on 66 minutes which eventually led to Natcho’s shot striking the arm of McTominay in the box. The United midfielder could do nothing about it and the referee again waved play on. He opted for the same decision seconds later, when the ball hit Williams’s arm, which only served to further rile the home faithful.
Romero was called into action, seven minutes from time, when Asano flicked a header goalwards from a corner, but the United goalkeeper saved well once more. Moments later, Natcho swept a drive inches off target as Rojo moved out to close him down.
Skipper Maguire made one vital last-ditch clearance as the Reds held out for a battling win which takes us to seven points and takes us to the top of Group L.
Partizan: Stojkovic, Miletic, Ostojic, S. Pavlovic, Urosevic, Natcho, Zdjelar, Tosic (F. Stevanovic 75), Soumah (L. Pavlovic 83), Asano (Ivanovic 93), Umar Sadiq.
Subs not used: Vujacic, N. Stevanovic, Brezancic, Scekic.
Booked: Natcho, Miletic, Zdjelar.
United: Romero; Jones, Maguire (c), Rojo; Wan-Bissaka (James 60), McTominay, Garner (Andreas 81), Mata, Williams; Lingard, Martial (Rashford 60).
Subs not used: Grant, Lindelof, Fred, Greenwood.
Goal: Martial 43 (pen)