The young United side will have learned much from this defeat at the hands of Shakhtar Donetsk. They presented a very different proposition from what these players will have faced in domestic football and won a game through solid organisation and making the most of limited goalscoring opportunities, snatching a late winner from a second half in which United had been easily the better side.
In a first forty-five minutes of few chances, it was Shakhtar who carved out the best of them, scoring within three minutes after Zinchenko’s free kick from the right was deflected past Gollini by Callum Evans. Apart from occasional half-chances at both ends, this was predominantly a midfield battle with Wilson getting little service up front and the wingers finding it equally difficult to get behind the Ukrainians’ full backs. United were denied the opportunity to play their natural passing game and it was Shakhtar who largely dictated the play, looking more at ease with the slow pace of the encounter. Sam Byrne, playing on the left, picked up an injury early on, to be replaced by the in-form Harrop, but United continued to toil down the flanks with no reward.
In the second half, United began to seize the initiative, with Rothwell an increasing threat in midfield. Pereira stung the keeper’s hands with a free kick after Harrop had been brought down just outside the area. Just after the hour mark, United made an attacking change, with full-back Evans being replaced by forward Ashley Fletcher. Fletcher gave United an additional threat, testing the keeper with a glancing header and going close twice when his attempts to cross back across the area were dealt with by an always resourceful Shakhtar defence. It was Pereira, who was now beginning to show some of his class in this competition, who produced the equaliser for United, putting in an excellent cross from the right that was powerfully headed home by Wilson.
It was no more than United deserved after being easily the better side in the second half. The Ukrainians fought back, however, and had already tested Gollini twice before substitute Besuglyy steered the ball home from within the area to beat the unsighted keeper. It was a hugely disappointing end to a game the young Reds will feel they deserved something from. They now face two games against a strong Real Sociedad team and the pressure will be on to gain points from both of them if United are to get back on course for qualification for the knockout stages.