De Gea to rescue as United escape with crucial point
S Donetsk 1 Manchester Utd 1
David de Gea spared David Moyes from the calamity of a fourth defeat as Manchester United manager with a crucial late save from Shakhtar Donetsk winger Taison in the Donbass Arena.
Moyes, without the injured Wayne Rooney, had looked on course to end his miserable run of results with Danny Welbeck's first-half opener giving United the lead against the Ukrainian champions.
But a stunning equaliser from Taison preceded a late onslaught by the home side and De Gea, dismissed as 'lazy' by former goalkeeper coach Eric Steele at the weekend, emphasised his growing importance to United by tipping Taison's 86th-minute effort over the crossbar to earn his team a point.
It was a deserved point too and a result which may, ultimately, prove to be a corner turned for United following their recent run of poor results in the Premier League.
Having gone into the game in the midst of their worst start to a season in 24 years, the loss of Rooney to a shin injury sustained in training was unfortunate.
Moyes subsequently claimed in his televised pre-match interview that Rooney would not have started the game anyway.
The original decision to name Rooney as a substitute, before his injury, suggested Moyes was focusing energies on the trip to Sunderland on Saturday, rather than this fixture.
Rooney's participation in that game would now appear to be in some doubt, which in turn would place question marks over his ability to prove his fitness in time for England's World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.
The absence of Rooney was one of nine changes made by Moyes to the starting line-up which lost at home against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. With Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu voicing his surprise on Tuesday at the extent of Moyes' rotation policy since replacing Alex Ferguson as United manager, the well-travelled Romanian could not have been surprised by the chopping and changing by his opposite number for this game.
The Shakhtar coach has seen the likes of Fernandinho, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan leave the Donbass Arena in recent months, weakening a team that had become one of the more formidable outsiders in the Champions League, yet Shakhtar remain a force and they went into this game defending a 100pc record against English clubs in this competition at home.
Van Persie sent an early effort over Andriy Pyatov's crossbar from 20 yards before Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini linked well to tee up Welbeck for a close-range effort.
After missing that opportunity, however, the Mancunian forward claimed his third goal of the season when he clipped the ball past Pyatov at the near post following Fellaini's pass from the byline.
The stinging criticism on the back of three defeats in four league games had clearly resonated with United's players judging by their determined performance, however.
Against West Bromwich, they were too many half-hearted challenges and half-paced runs backs into position, but it was a different story here.
Rafael was resolute at right-back, Antonio Valencia robust in front of him and the likes of Fellaini, Chris Smalling and Cleverley, all of whom have struggled at times this season, were all producing their best performances under Moyes.
The same could not be said of Patrice Evra, however, with the French full-back repeatedly troubled by the pace of Shakhtar's Brazilian winger Taison.
The home side emerged for the second half as though they had been imbued with a sense of injustice following several replays of the incident inside the dressing-room.
Shakhtar were certainly more potent than in the first half and Rafael was forced to deal with Taison's incredible pace after the winger had switched flanks with Douglas Costa.
Rafael is no slouch, but it was though he was running through treacle when he was left trailing by his fellow countryman on 52 minutes before a searing cross was delivered to the near post.
Shakhtar had three players queuing up for the cross, but De Gea was bold and reliable as he dived to smother the ball.
Lucescu's players, propelled by the noisy group of fans behind De Gea's goal, maintained the pressure on United, but Vidic was providing a one-man barrier, blocking and intercepting any ball which the home side attempting to thread into the penalty area.
Moyes may feel the time has come to ease Rio Ferdinand out of the first-team picture, but Vidic is irreplaceable and it is no wonder that plans are afoot to offer the 31-year-old a new contract.
With Moyes sensing the need to close the game up, the Scot sent on Ryan Giggs for Fellaini, enabling the Welshman to register his 145th Champions League appearance – a record in the competition as a whole, but Raul's 144 games for Real Madrid remain Uefa's benchmark due to Giggs's tally being made up with eight qualifying round outings.
Giggs's introduction could do little to stem the tide of attacks by Shakhtar, though, and the 39-year-old could only watch in vain as Rakitskiy's powerful shot bounced off Vidic and into Taison's path.
And the winger did not pass up his chance, unleashing a ferocious right-foot shot beyond De Gea and into the roof of the net.
But for the United goalkeeper's fingertip save from the save player again on 86 minutes, Moyes would have endured another defeat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)