“The performance until the box was good but the finishing was not so good,” said the manager. “What you see is that in every game, except against Brentford, we score so in this team we have a lot of creativity. The good thing is they kept going – and believed they would score and in the end they score. I congratulate them for this. It tells you something about the team and spirit.”
Omonia’s fans, in loud voice before kick-off, saw their side defend two early corners – the first of which featured Marcus Rashford’s shot warming Uzoho’s fingers. There followed a passage of pass-and-move as crisp as this October night, United exerting the control their manager seeks. Rashford, bright but toothless throughout, swept a crossfield ball to the right, then later released Cristiano Ronaldo whose strike hit the side-netting.
Ronaldo’s next offering was to take Tyrell Malacia’s driven pass with aplomb, swivel on to his left, and shoot. This earned another corner and Rashford intervened again, swapping passes with Bruno Fernandes before the captain steered wide from an angle on the left.
Fernandes loves to fizz about and be involved and when the Omonia forward Bruno hit a free-kick into United’s area there he was to clear. From the subsequent corner, Fernandes broke and overcooked a ball aimed for Ronaldo’s charge into the area.
The best hope for Neil Lennon’s side was a quick break. When Andronikos Kakoulli sprinted down the right, Lisandro Martínez had to block. Omonia’s manager was noticeably chagrined, perhaps at his team’s lack of urgency, allowing United to hog the ball on their own terms. One phase ended with Fernandes simply tapping left to Rashford and he was in and pulling the trigger – but only at an advancing Uzoho. Rashford came close again when dancing into Omonia’s area, leaving a turquoise-shirted defender on his backside, though his effort was stymied.
The 24-year-old’s act dazzled: now he swerved infield and hit a curving attempt that required Uzoho to leap left and save. United’s 77.6% possession at the half-hour mark was indicative of their dominance. Needed was a goal – or two – to make this count. Ronaldo took a turn to try, a classy pirouette followed by a cute dink in a polar opposite to how Casemiro, from 20 yards, crashed the ball against Uzoho’s bar.
When Malacia and Rashford crafted a passing triangle inside Omonia’s area and the left-back drilled the ball into Ronaldo, the forward missed but the move was reminiscent of how Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City breach many sides: encouraging for Ten Hag who wishes to construct a possession-based unit.
The first half, though, ended with warnings for United: Bruno skated in behind and had Kakoulli free and begging to be set-up but blazed over. Then Diogo Dalot mis-hit a pass that allowed the same player in and as David de Gea charged out, Martínez barged the Omonia striker aside. It appeared a foul – maybe even a red card as the defender was the last man – but the referee, Jérôme Brisard, was not interested and neither, oddly, was the VAR. Lennon, understandably, appeared baffled and annoyed.
After the interval Antony and Rashford continued United’s frustration: at least the Brazilian forced Uzoho into a sharp save; Rashford’s follow-up was tame from what was an easy opening.
Last week Ten Hag praised United’s calmness when going behind in Cyprus. The same quality had to be shown in this return fixture and, surely, the breakthrough would come. But two Fernandes corners, an Antony cross that missed Ronaldo, and Rashford steering wide when clean through lacked composure. So off came Antony and Malacia for Jadon Sancho and Luke Shaw.
A combination from the new arrivals that sought to put Fernandes in augured well yet Rashford, for seemingly an umpteenth time, spurned his latest opportunity.
To win, Ten Hag now introduced Christian Eriksen’s savvy. He probed and unloaded twice to no avail. But McTominay ended the hero to send United fans home happy.