Javier Hernandez scored an 85th-minute winner to give Manchester United a 1-0 win over Spanish league leaders Valencia in Wednesday’s Champions League Group C match at the Mestalla Stadium.
Mexican international Hernandez, 22, had only been on the pitch nine minutes but had an immediate impact, scoring United’s first European goal of the new season as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side won in Spain for the first time since 2002.
United move on to four points in Group C following their opening 0-0 home draw against Rangers, while Valencia stay on three points, having beaten Bursaspor 4-0 in their first game.
United came into the match with defensive fears after conceding seven goals in their last three league matches, but a clean sheet coupled with Hernandez’s late strike gave them only their second win in Spain from their last 19 visits.
It was their first victory since they defeated Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 in the 2001/02 quarter-final first leg at the Riazor Stadium.
United manager Ferguson could not call upon several of his experienced stars, with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville all unavailable, although the most significant injury victim was England striker Wayne Rooney.
Ferguson resisted the temptation to replace Rooney with Michael Owen, choosing to play with a five-man midfield behind Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov.
United gambled on the fitness of Rio Ferdinand, with the England international defender returning to partner Nemanja Vidic in central defence.
Valencia also played with a 4-5-1 formation, with striker Roberto Soldado supported by wingers Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez.
Soldado should have put Valencia ahead on 17 minutes after a gaffe from veteran goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
The 39-year-old flapped at a cross from the left, giving Soldado a free header in front of goal, but the surprised forward could not react quickly enough and headed over, to the despair of the home fans.
Without Rooney — who could be out for up to three weeks with an ankle injury — United lacked punch up front and their only real effort of the first half was a run and shot from Berbatov that goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez calmly watched go past the post.
It was a stalemate at half-time as United, finalists in two of the last three seasons, waited for their first European goal of the season.
At the beginning of the second half Pablo Hernandez cut inside and curled a shot wide for Valencia in an early warning.
The visitors raised their game and on 56 minutes Berbatov, top-scorer in the Premier League with six goals, showed neat footwork to wriggle free of his man and bear down on goal, but his shot from an acute angle was saved by the legs of Cesar.
Both sides were largely cancelling each other out in a congested midfield and after an hour Valencia coach Unai Emery chose to bring on striker Aritz Aduriz for attacking midfielder Alejandro Dominguez.
Substitute Manuel Fernandes forced van der Sar into a diving save in the final quarter hour and United boss Ferguson decided to make his first change, replacing midfielder Anderson with Hernandez.
Hernandez made an immediate impact by hitting the post and a minute later he showed a neat touch to lose his man before nestling a shot into the bottom-right corner for the winner.
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