Romanians add to Ferguson's worries ahead of derby showdown
Manchester Utd 0 CFR Cluj 1
Champions League Group H
It was a goal worthy of marking Alex Ferguson's 200th Champions League fixture as Manchester United manager, but he would have preferred it to have secured a victory rather his team's sixth defeat of the season.
Luis Alberto's 56th-minute strike, an unstoppable effort from 30 yards, was enough for CFR Cluj to add their name to the roll call of teams to have tasted a European victory at Old Trafford, but with United having already claimed their place in the knockout stages, losing on Ferguson's milestone night barely caused a ripple.
With Manchester City next up this Sunday, a dead rubber against the Romanian champions was hardly going to spark one of Old Trafford's glory nights.
Nevertheless, it was not the way Ferguson would have wanted to prepare for that eagerly awaited trip across town, even if City are looking equally bereft just now, which is bizarre in itself, given how far clear of the rest the Manchester rivals have drawn in the league.
In making 10 changes from the side which won 4-3 at Reading last Saturday, Ferguson seemed to be offering three, at the very most four, a chance of being involved in Sunday's Manchester derby.
Early on, Chris Smalling did not do much to convince he could stop the 'cartoon cavalcade' Ferguson accused his team of at the Madejski Stadium with a poor clearance to Rafael Bastos, which was followed by the England man almost deflecting the subsequent shot into his own net.
Other than an early Danny Welbeck header and Mario Felgueiras' brave block to halt Javier Hernandez's route to goal, the hosts were second best in those early exchanges.
Had Scott Wootton not turned Modou Sougou's effort wide, United would probably have been behind yet again and it took a bit of sharp work from Wayne Rooney inside his own six-yard box to prevent the corner causing some damage.
United finally shook off their lethargy six minutes before the break when Welbeck met Rooney's corner at the near-post, only to be denied by Felgueiras, who somehow managed to keep the header out.
Ferguson's hopes of escaping the night unscathed were dashed just before the break when Tom Cleverley headed straight for the dressing-rooms after being replaced by Paul Scholes. Ferguson later revealed that Cleverley is likely to miss Sunday's derby.
And a small but noisy contingent from Romania were given something to warm them up 11 minutes after the restart when Luis Alberto scored a beauty, his 30-yard shot curling away from the returning David de Gea and into the top corner.
But all this effort was in vain for the visitors, who were being turfed out of the competition by Galatasaray's comeback in Braga.
"We put a young side out, we did well at times on a pitch that was a bit dead, it had frost on it, so I'm satisfied we put in a decent performance," said Ferguson afterwards. "A lot of them got some experience tonight," he added. "Young (Nick) Powell did well – 18 years of age – and Phil Jones, it was an excellent game for him tonight – only his second game in about nine months – so I'm very pleased with that part of it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
LAST 16 QUALIFIERS
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, FC Porto
Group B: FC Schalke, Arsenal
Group C: Malaga, AC Milan
Group D: Dortmund, Real Madrid
Group E: Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk
Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia
Group G: Barcelona, Celtic
Group H: Manchester United, Galatasaray
• Draw to take place on Thursday, Dec 20. Teams from same country or same group cannot play each other in last 16.