Van Persie wastes chance to deliver knock-out blow
Real Sociedad 0 Man Utd 0
Published 06/11/2013 | 02:00
Ashley Young is facing further unwanted scrutiny for another diving controversy as Manchester United squandered the chance to move to the brink of qualification for the Champions League knock-out stages.
Young appeared to fall theatrically in the area after a tame challenge from Real Sociedad's Markel Bergara and though Robin van Persie's 69th-minute penalty hit a post, the United winger could now earn a second reprimand from David Moyes this season.
Marouane Fellaini was dismissed in the final minute of a dull, lifeless encounter in San Sebastian and although United remain top of Group A and have two games to guarantee reaching the last 16, the incident involving Young was the only real talking point.
This will be the last thing Young needs as he battles to save his United career. He has become more renowned for these incidents rather than his football and Van Persie's miss from the spot arguably saved his team-mate from more unwanted attention.
"Robin scores for fun," Ryan Giggs said. "But you can never have a go at anyone for missing a penalty sometimes. You just have to get on with it."
Moyes added: "It happens, but thankfully it doesn't happen too often. He'll be fine. But that was a game we should have won. It was there for us to take the points, get ourselves in a really strong position, and near enough get clear."
United now face Bayer Leverkusen knowing that a victory will all but secure a path out of the group phase. They remain unbeaten but are yet to hammer out a real statement of intent.
There will be far more formidable opponents to overcome if they do advance, and there remains a sense that United's activity in the summer transfer window, or lack of it, could prove pivotal when the serious business starts.
United arrived here on the back of four successive wins. Early on Shinji Kagawa flashed a shot wide before testing Claudio Bravo, the Sociedad goalkeeper, but the home team gradually grew in confidence, boosted by United's carelessness in possession.
Fellaini was particularly culpable, while the crossing into the Sociedad penalty area from the flanks was at times atrocious.
This was a big night for Sociedad. Their exile from the Champions League has been a decade of frustration and beating United represented their only hope of keeping slim chances of progression alive.
Alberto de la Bella came closest to giving Sociedad the lead in first-half injury-time, but he curled his shot wide.
Kagawa earned a growl from the United manager for giving the ball away. He responded by sending in a low cross for Javier Hernandez, but the striker inexplicably cleared the goal from six yards. The ball appeared to bobble, and he was also flagged offside, but it was an incredible miss.
United had to show more ambition. Robin van Persie was introduced shortly after the hour mark for the disappointing Wayne Rooney, while Young was also sent on to kick some life into a game that was threatening to fizzle out.
It almost paid off instantly. Young was sent scampering down the left and his cross found Van Persie at the far post but his shot came crashing back off the upright.
Young has been much maligned over the past 12 months, with his diving earning a rebuke from his manager earlier this season, and his fall in the box for United's penalty appeared dubious.
But Nicola Rizzoli, the Italian referee, pointed to the spot. Van Persie's miss appeared to give Sociedad a second wind when they appeared to be lumbering.
Xabi Prieto was given space to shoot and the ball was almost put in by Carlos Vela. Fellaini was dismissed a minute from time for a second caution but United weathered the storm.
For Moyes, the post-match inquest was far more likely to centre on Young than a point earned. (© Daily Telegraph, London)