Rostov-on-Don (Russia) (AFP) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan bagged a precious away goal as Manchester United came away from their trip to Russia with a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie against Rostov on Thursday.
On an awful pitch, the state of which had United manager Jose Mourinho fuming on the eve of the game, Mkhitaryan turned in the opener 10 minutes before half-time.
But Aleksandr Bukharov levelled for the home side in the 53rd minute at the Olimp 2 stadium, keeping Rostov hopes alive ahead of next week’s return at Old Trafford.
The build-up to the match had been overshadowed by United’s complaints about the playing surface and about concerns travelling fans could be targeted by Russian hooligans.
However, the evening passed off without incident inside the ground, where a little over 200 United supporters were in attendance along with ex-United assistant boss Carlos Queiroz, who is these days in charge of Iran.
“It was a very good performance in relation to the conditions. It was impossible to play better, impossible to play a passing game,” Mourinho told BT Sport.
“We played what the game demanded and we played well. We made one defensive mistake.
“l remember as a kid some matches like this in Portugal — non-league and amateur pitches. To see my players coping with it and the humility to fight for every ball is a good feeling for me.
“We have an open result for the second leg with a little advantage for us. There are no injuries.”
The result saw the visitors extend their recent unbeaten run in all competitions to 10 games as Mourinho made seven changes to the team held by Bournemouth last weekend.
One of those brought back into the starting line-up was Mkhitaryan, and it was he who swept United in front in the 35th minute from close range after good build-up play involving Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Nevertheless Rostov, who are seventh in the Russian Premier League but had already won at home to Ajax and Bayern Munich in Europe this season, drew level thanks to a fine goal shortly after the break.
Timofei Kalachev delivered a ball over the top that was controlled on the chest inside the box and then fired home by Bukharov to secure the draw.
Elsewhere, FC Copenhagen beat Ajax 2-1 in Denmark with Rasmus Falk putting the hosts in front inside a minute.