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Erik ten Hag forced to use bench press after Neil Lennon’s Nicosia threaten more humiliation for United

Omonia Nicosia 2 Manchester United 3

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Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after a missed chance against Omonia Nicosia. Photo: Reuters

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after a missed chance against Omonia Nicosia. Photo: Reuters

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after a missed chance against Omonia Nicosia. Photo: Reuters

If Erik ten Hag hoped Manchester United were going to quickly get their derby humiliation out of their system, he was evidently asking for too much.

On a night when United again flirted with more embarrassment, two goals from Marcus Rashford and another from fellow sub Anthony Martial spared their blushes, but there was as much in this to make Ten Hag squirm as Sunday’s 6-3 capitulation against Manchester City.

Any semblance of control evaporated when Omonia Nicosia – managed by Neil Lennon – took advantage of some cartoonish defending to lead – and then had United fretting late on, when Nikolaos Panagiotou’s goal raised Cypriot hopes of snatching a famous draw.

Rashford and Martial, at least, had a tangible reward for their evening’s work from the bench – but this was another frustrating outing for Cristiano Ronaldo, back in the starting team but looking like a man who could not buy a goal at the moment.

He hit a post, had a couple of shots saved, others taken off his boot when opportunity briefly seemed to knock; even his assist for Rashford’s second was a mishit shot.

On paper, this felt like a kind fixture after Sunday’s debacle – and yet, by the interval, United were behind, and embarrassed again. The difference was they had been overwhelmed at the Etihad by arguably the best team on the planet, yet here they were facing a bunch of ageing journeymen, seven of whose starters were in their thirties, playing out the twilight of their careers in a continental backwater.

It was actually hard to remember Omonia venturing into their opponent’s half much before their breakaway goal on 33 minutes, which immediately catapulted the mind back to Istanbul Basaksehir two years ago.

On that occasion, United’s formation resembled an upended table, in which all the tea cups and saucers had ended up in a pile together in one corner of the room, pretty much the entire team going missing upfield as a corner broke down and a disbelieving Demba Ba galloped away to score.

This was not a carbon copy but it bore the nightmarish hallmarks: a free-kick deep in enemy territory gone horribly wrong, with nine outfield players caught high up the pitch. In truth, the goal would never have come about had Jadon Sancho opted to cross the ball back into the penalty area, not play a silly backwards pass to the only United player behind the ball.

Tyrell Malacia, a good 15 yards inside the Omonia half, would have been under pressure from Bruno Felipe even if his first touch had been a good one; unfortunately it was not and he was dispossessed.

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Suddenly, Omonia were surging forward in numbers. But, even then, they may have just about got away with it had Christian Eriksen not opted to charge across to Bruno, whom Lisandro Martinez and Malacia looked a decent bet to shackle between them.

Instead, Karim Ansarifard was vacated in the middle by Eriksen, allowing Bruno to slip the ball through to the former Nottingham Forest forward to rifle his shot to the net.

What will have worried Ten Hag was the way his side fell to pieces for the 12 minutes after the goal, before the interval brought an opportunity to restore some order.

They had been in complete control up until that point, albeit without a goal to show for it, in part due to the Omonia goalkeeper making a couple of excellent saves to deny Ronaldo, but also because of Antony’s strange reluctance to take on a shot with the goal gaping, and instead attempt a botched lay-off to Bruno Fernandes, who also hit the crossbar.

Yet Omonia’s goal rocked United and, for a while, they struggled to compose themselves, not least during one desperate goalmouth scramble.

For the second successive game, Ten Hag opted to withdraw Malacia at half-time as well as the other main culprit for the goal, Sancho, whose replacement Rashford would eventually restore parity.

Having initially miscontrolled Fernandes’ superb pass, Rashford got a second chance when his marker stood off the ball, and swept a lovely finish into the far corner.

Ten minutes later, another sub had made another immediate impact, Martial cutting inside and pinging a hard, low drive into the bottom corner for his third goal in two games. Ronaldo hit a post from Diogo Dalot’s pull-back before what was an intended shot from the Portuguese turned into a decent cross for Rashford to tap home.

Panagiotou’s late goal from Andronikos Kakoulli’s cross exposed more feeble United defending but there was nothing worse to follow. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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