Manchester United beat brave Shakhtar to go top

AP, Tuesday 10 Dec 2013

A second-half goal from Phil Jones fires United to the top of Group A in the UEFA Champions League

Phil Jones
Manchester United's Phil Jones, right, celebrates after scoring the opening gaol during their Champions League group A soccer match between Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester (Photo: AP)

Manchester United rediscovered the winning feeling at Old Trafford by beating Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 in the Champions League on Tuesday to finish top of Group A and eliminate the Ukrainian champions.

Phil Jones' fiercely struck volley in the 67th minute ensured United finished the group stage unbeaten and is more likely to face a weaker team in the draw for the last 16.

It was scrappy and unconvincing, but any win will do for United and its under-pressure manager David Moyes after back-to-back home losses to Everton and Newcastle in the Premier League in the past week.

"I thought there wasn't much difference to the Everton and Newcastle games," said an unsatisfied Moyes, who admitted to getting tough with his players at the break for giving the ball away "terribly" in the first half. "Tonight we got the goal. In those other games, Everton and Newcastle got the goal."

A victory would have guaranteed Shakhtar a place in the knockout stage alongside already-qualified United, but the visitors failed to cap their early dominance with a goal and ended up third in the group behind Bayer Leverkusen, which beat Real Sociedad 1-0.

Shakhtar drops into the Europa League, where it hasn't played for four years.

"The first half and the second half were like two different games," Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu.

It was a morale-boosting win for United, whose successive defeats left the team languishing in ninth place in the Premier League, 13 points off leader Arsenal. Not since October 1962 and the week before the outbreak of the Cuban missile crisis had United gone down to three home defeats in succession, but that gloomy prospect was avoided and Moyes can celebrate a successful start to his first season in the Champions League.

It will get much tougher from here, though.

"I think the club itself needs to be classed as one of the favorites but I think we all know we as a team have to improve if we are to keep progressing in the competition," Moyes said. "Hopefully we have given ourselves the best chance by winning the group."

There was an air of nervousness throughout the first half as Shakhtar's busy, Brazilian-heavy midfield pulled the strings. United center backs Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans were often left exposed as Shakhtar's playmakers, particularly Alex Teixeira, scythed their way through to create chances.

Teixeira wasted two of them, first shooting just wide after a through-ball by Taison and then firing at David de Gea, while Fred miscued at the end of another incisive Shakhtar break. Those misses proved to be costly.

"The way our players were playing in the first half, we could have scored and finished the game 2-0," Lucescu said.

There was an openness and fragility to United early on that will worry Moyes, especially his central midfield where the 40-year-old Ryan Giggs and Jones — a center back playing out of position — were often overrun. Giggs was hauled off midway through the second half whereas Jones improved as the game wore on, eventually getting his goal.

Robin van Persie, on as a substitute, swung in a corner that went through a mass of bodies, struck the side of Yaroslav Rakitskiy and fell invitingly for Jones, who lashed home low into the center of the goal from 10 yards.

That sucked the life out of Shakhtar, which failed to create a clear-cut chance in the final quarter as the game petered out. However unconvincing, United brought an end to its sorry run of home defeats, something Moyes will look to feed on when the team returns to Premier League action this weekend.

"We know we've had a disappointing couple of weeks and we hope that we can kick on from this now," Jones said.

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