Manchester United climbed off the bottom of their Europa League group with an uninspiring win over Ukrainian minnows Zorya Luhansk.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the second-half winner with his first goal in five matches, nodding in substitute Wayne Rooney’s mis-hit shot at the far post.
It was United’s first effort on target, despite dominating at Old Trafford.
Zorya offered little threat, although Sergio Romero had to be alert to save Paulinho’s shot just before the winner.
The Red Devils are among the favourites to win Europe’s secondary club competition, but started the evening at the bottom of Group A following a 1-0 defeat at Dutch side Feyenoord in their opening match.
And for more than an hour it looked as though Jose Mourinho’s men would stay there.
Despite hogging over 70% of possession, United were slow and ponderous in the final third as Zorya’s well-drilled defence held firm.
But Zorya, making their debut in the Europa League group stage, were undone inside two minutes of Rooney’s introduction.
United move up to third, level on three points with Feyenoord and one adrift of Turkish leaders Fenerbahce, who travel to Old Trafford on 20 October in the next round of games.
Rooney makes inadvertent impact
Rooney had been expected to be restored to the United starting XI after being dropped for the Premier League win against Leicester last weekend.
But Mourinho’s plan to recall the England skipper was scuppered by a minor back injury.
The United manager decided that continuity was the policy in his absence, sticking with the attacking quartet – Ibrahimovic, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata – that started Saturday’s 4-1 win.
However, they offered little spark against a visiting side that finished fourth in the Ukrainian Premier League last season.
Rooney was summoned from the bench with 25 minutes left and inadvertently set up the winner, as the ball struck his knee and bounced up off the ground for Ibrahimovic to head in at the far post.
“Wayne gave us different positions and speed when the opposing team was getting tired,” said Mourinho.
Mourinho remaining level-headed
Mourinho, who replaced Louis van Gaal in the summer, questioned the character of his United side earlier this month after they suffered three straight defeats against Manchester City, Feyenoord and Watford.
But they have bounced back with three successive wins, beating Zorya after victories against Northampton in the EFL Cup and Leicester in the Premier League.
“One week, three defeats. One week, three victories. But I was not depressed by the defeats and I am not over the moon with three wins,” said the 53-year-old Portuguese.
“It was difficult. We had our chances in the first half, we could have scored and it would have been a different match. But we didn’t.
“They kept organised and had plenty of players behind the ball but with players ready to do something on the counter-attack. It was difficult and we needed to win.”
Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic:
“It was not an easy game. We played well, created chances, but this is a typical game. When you don’t score in the beginning, the spaces get smaller and smaller. After the goal, we had more space but it was a decent game. We won and that is what counts after losing against Feyenoord.
“We could have done much more though, and I expect much more from the team. We did not score as we did against Leicester but it is good for confidence. If we continue this and step it up, we will do good.”
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