Manchester United finally enjoyed away-day success as Anthony Martial’s 43rd-minute penalty earned an unconvincing 1-0 win over Partizan Belgrade, lifting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to the top of Group L in the Europa League.
Prior to Thursday’s contest in Serbia, United had gone 11 matches without an away win in all competitions – their worst such run in 40 years – since beating Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League back in March.
Yet the Red Devils’ travelling support were finally given reason to celebrate again as a spot-kick from Martial – making his first start since August 24 following injury – was complemented by the club’s third clean sheet in as many Europa League matches this term.
United’s overall performance was far from impressive and a lack of creativity was again apparent as a side showing seven changes from Sunday’s encouraging 1-1 draw with Liverpool failed to muster a single shot on target besides Martial’s penalty.
However, the result will at least please Solskjaer as the 2016-17 Europa League winners are firmly on course to reach the knockout stages having claimed seven points from three games.
The only clear-cut chance of a turgid opening half-hour, in which United dominated possession, saw Scott McTominay wastefully head wide at the far post from Juan Mata’s inviting 15th-minute free-kick.
A brief spell of Partizan pressure heralded a significant rise in entertainment value, with the fit-again Jesse Lingard and Umar Sadiq each striking the post in quick succession.
Martial then calmly sent Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way from 12 yards, after Brandon Williams’ surging run into the hosts’ box had drawn a clear foul from Nemanja Miletic.
United were pegged back for much of the second half, though, and had to survive a succession of penalty appeals from Partizan, the most convincing arriving in the 67th minute when Miletic’s back-post header appeared to strike the arm of Williams.
A furious Miletic was booked for his protests after the referee refused to point to the spot and the hosts’ pressure continued to go unrewarded, with Sergio Romero saving sharply from Takuma Asano late on.
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