United beats Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 to top group

Manchester United rediscovered the winning feeling at Old

Trafford by beating Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 in the Champions League on

Tuesday to finish top of Group A and eliminate the Ukrainian

champions.

Phil Jones’ fiercely struck volley in the 67th minute ensured

United finished the group stage unbeaten and is more likely to face

a weaker team in the draw for the last 16.

It was scrappy and unconvincing, but any win will do for United

and its under-pressure manager David Moyes after back-to-back home

losses to Everton and Newcastle in the Premier League in the past

week.

”I thought there wasn’t much difference to the Everton and

Newcastle games,” said an unsatisfied Moyes, who admitted to

getting tough with his players at the break for giving the ball

away ”terribly” in the first half. ”Tonight we got the goal. In

those other games, Everton and Newcastle got the goal.”

A victory would have guaranteed Shakhtar a place in the knockout

stage alongside already-qualified United, but the visitors failed

to cap their early dominance with a goal and ended up third in the

group behind Bayer Leverkusen, which beat Real Sociedad 1-0.

Shakhtar drops into the Europa League, where it hasn’t played

for four years.

”The first half and the second half were like two different

games,” Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu.

It was a morale-boosting win for United, whose successive

defeats left the team languishing in ninth place in the Premier

League, 13 points off leader Arsenal. Not since October 1962 and

the week before the outbreak of the Cuban missile crisis had United

gone down to three home defeats in succession, but that gloomy

prospect was avoided and Moyes can celebrate a successful start to

his first season in the Champions League.

It will get much tougher from here, though.

”I think the club itself needs to be classed as one of the

favorites but I think we all know we as a team have to improve if

we are to keep progressing in the competition,” Moyes said.

”Hopefully we have given ourselves the best chance by winning the

group.”

There was an air of nervousness throughout the first half as

Shakhtar’s busy, Brazilian-heavy midfield pulled the strings.

United center backs Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were often left

exposed as Shakhtar’s playmakers, particularly Alex Teixeira,

scythed their way through to create chances.

Teixeira wasted two of them, first shooting just wide after a

through-ball by Taison and then firing at David de Gea, while Fred

miscued at the end of another incisive Shakhtar break. Those misses

proved to be costly.

”The way our players were playing in the first half, we could

have scored and finished the game 2-0,” Lucescu said.

There was an openness and fragility to United early on that will

worry Moyes, especially his central midfield where the 40-year-old

Ryan Giggs and Jones – a center back playing out of position – were

often overrun. Giggs was hauled off midway through the second half

whereas Jones improved as the game wore on, eventually getting his

goal.

Robin van Persie, on as a substitute, swung in a corner that

went through a mass of bodies, struck the side of Yaroslav

Rakitskiy and fell invitingly for Jones, who lashed home low into

the center of the goal from 10 yards.

That sucked the life out of Shakhtar, which failed to create a

clear-cut chance in the final quarter as the game petered out.

However unconvincing, United brought an end to its sorry run of

home defeats, something Moyes will look to feed on when the team

returns to Premier League action this weekend.

”We know we’ve had a disappointing couple of weeks and we hope

that we can kick on from this now,” Jones said.