Manchester United’s chances of progressing in the Europa League are in the balance after they threw away the lead to go down 2-1 at FC Midtjylland in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.
Memphis Depay’s close-range finish put United in front in the 37th minute, but Pione Sisto – capitalising on a Michael Carrick error – equalised seven minutes later.
A fine strike from Midtjylland substitute Paul Onuachu with 13 minutes to go then handed the Danish champions victory on the night.
Red Devils goalkeeper Sergio Romero produced a series of fine saves after replacing David de Gea, who was forced to pull out of the first XI having sustained an injury in the warm-up, while Jesse Lingard was unlucky not to restore United’s lead at 1-1 as his effort hit the bar.
Tickets for this game cost £71, something some of the United fans among the 800 who had made the trip to the 11,800-capacity MCH Arena in Herning protested about, with a banner on display in the away section reading ‘WELCOME TO SCAMDINAVIA’.
It is unlikely they will have got too much enjoyment out of what they saw for their money, with their team turning in another unconvincing performance.
The match will have also made for uncomfortable viewing a lot of the time for United’s increasingly under-scrutiny boss Louis van Gaal, who has admitted the club’s best chance of making the Champions League for next season appears to be winning this competition.
Van Gaal had to cope going into this game with having 12 senior players unavailable – including captain Wayne Rooney, out for six weeks with a knee injury – and there was yet another blow for United just prior to kick-off as De Gea joined the list.
Despite that setback, they looked to make a positive start and in the eighth minute Juan Mata’s low shot was saved by Mikkel Andersen.
But three minutes later they were almost behind. Midtjylland boss Jess Thorup had made it known his side would be looking to hurt United from set-pieces, and so it almost proved as a corner was met by a powerful Kian Hansen header that Romero did superbly to palm away.
Anthony Martial had a shot blocked, then penalty appeals in the home box waved away by referee Artur Dias, and Depay subsequently saw his free-kick saved.
But it was the hosts who showed real threat once again moments later as Vaclav Kadlec found himself in space and through one-on-one with Romero, who pulled off another fine save.
United looked vulnerable, but within a minute they were ahead, Depay receiving the ball from Lingard’s cross and – despite being somewhat unbalanced – managing to prod it in from close range off Andersen.
The lead was soon cancelled out as Carrick saw his attempted pass go straight to Sisto. United could not get near the Denmark international as he advanced to the edge of the box before unleashing a shot past Romero.
At the start of the second half Lingard blasted into the stand and – after Romero saved another Sisto shot – Mata headed wide.
Lingard was then inches away from putting United back in front as his volley from Ander Herrera’s cross struck the woodwork – although they were soon thanking Romero again, with him brilliantly tipping Onuachu’s header over the bar.
Sisto looped a shot wide and it was then Onuachu who took centre-stage, firing in a delightfully-placed strike from the edge of the area, with United having done little to stop him.