Man United made hard work of it again against Omonia Nicosia but they have all but qualified for the knockout stage of the Europa League.
According to Manchester Evening News, Nigeria’s Francis Uzoho may be on the radar of Manchester United following his spectacular form last Friday.
“Going off Manchester United’s penchant for recruiting back-up goalkeepers who have excelled against them, Francis Uzoho’s chances of an Old Trafford transfer are auspicious”, reports the newspaper.
The only difference is Uzoho did not step off the pitch undefeated.
For 93 minutes, he was until Scott McTominay rifled the ball in from close range.
In the 90th minute, McTominay almost endangered spectators with a shot and that was the cue for thousands to vent and exit.
The days when United supporters stayed until the final kick belong to yesteryear. Uzoho collaped to the turf at full-time and was hauled up by his manager Neil Lennon.
The mentality of this United squad is still a work in progress and labouring to two wins over the Cypriot league runners-up underlines that. McTominay’s mentality is never lacking and his recovery was a swift one.
Thirty-four attempts, 13 corners, 12 saves, one stubborn custodian and one goal.
Uzoho was blamed for Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the World Cup yet has salvaged his calendar year with a night to remember, despite the belated blemish.
Omonia Nicosia were deprived of their impressive goalkeeper Fabiano yet Uzoho was as vigilant and busier, denying Marcus Rashford twice in the first-half and grazing Casemiro’s piledriver onto the crossbar. There were two saves inside the first 30 seconds of the second-half.
Tom Heaton and Martin Dubravka, spectators in the dugout, and Lee Grant were men possessed against United before they transferred to the club. Uzoho is a boyhood United fan and vowed he would “die” in goal against them. His goal certainly led a charmed life
In the 87th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo was impatiently demanding the ball’s return and Erik ten Hag scratched his goatee quizically.
Ten Hag found the solution, though. Substitutes Christian Eriksen and Jadon Sancho created the opening for fellow substitute McTominay.
The ignominy of two goalless home group games would have all but guaranteed United an additional knockout tie in February. Real Sociedad beat FC Sheriff and have taken maximum points and it remains likely there will be something to play for in the return tie in San Sebastian on November 3.
Omonia had the disadvantage of playing on Monday, losing to AEL. Their 5-3-2 formation was hardly watertight – United unleashed more efforts at goal than in Cyprus – yet there is something about insipid Thursday nights that drain the entitled of focus and United’s finishing was feckless.
Winning the group has been incentivised as the runner-up has to endure a two-legged tie against a team demoted from the Champions League. United are all but through, with only a point required at home to Sheriff in a fortnight.
United’s travelling supporters possibly hope they do finish second as Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid or Sevilla could await. Shakhtar Donetsk has the appeal of a trip to Warsaw, the Ukrainian team’s temporary residence.
Two free midweeks in February are particularly appealing to Ten Hag with two Premier League fixtures already postponed and yet to be rearranged, with the King’s coronation coinciding with a capital trip to West Ham.
United were more penetrative with Sancho and Luke Shaw combining down the left and Eriksen, benched for the first time all season, joined the cavalry in the 70th minute.
Tyrell Malacia and Fred demonstrated why they have had seats reserved for them of late. Antony, guilty of botching a chance he converted on his debut and at Goodison Park, regressed after a promising performance against Everton.
“F–k’s sake,” Lennon roared amid United’s dominance. He was soon cursing at his own side’s bluntness. United peppered the ‘keeper’s goal, rattled the woodwork and with a goal apparently inevitable the best chance of the first-half fell to Omonia. Selfishly, Bruno disregarded the free Andronikos Kakoulli, who was square.
A stricter referee would have expelled Lisandro Martinez for his barge on Kakoulli as he attempted to seize on Diogo Dalot’s hospital pass. It was a careless night at both ends.
The fixture was primarily enriched by the sight of 4,500 Cypriots in the away end, almost all of them bedecked in Omonia green. Lennon, synonymous with Celtic, will have appreciated that on his return to a stadium he last played at 14 years ago in the Champions League. The Ulsterman savoured every second, recording a video on his phone with the stands empty prior to kick-off.
Old Trafford was impressively vast for such a humdrum fixture, another reminder the Europa League would be better off scrapping the ‘league’ element and reverting back to straight knockout ties.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s candour about potentially buying United was felt as thousands stood and clapped during a rendition of “Stand up if you hate Glazers”. Many sported this season’s replica shirts and all had already lined the Glazers’ wallets by stepping inside the stadium.
It is a complex and nuanced situation but such chants are not going to significantly startle a family that has owned the club for nearly 18 years and has the safe distance of the Atlantic Ocean between them and the mob in Manchester. Momentum has not been as sustained as the captivating, if flawed, green and gold campaign and the mobilising is not as febrile as in 2005.
On this evidence, United are not worth their valuation. Uzoho’s has soared.