Match Report: Javier Hernandez's headers save Manchester United after dismal start against Braga

Manchester United 3 Braga 2: Ferguson perplexed by defensive shortcomings

Old Trafford

Since lifting the European Cup in Moscow four years ago, Manchester United have had an awful lot of trouble with teams beginning with B. They have been knocked out of the competition in successive seasons by Barcelona (twice), Bayern Munich and Basle – and last night they came close to embarrassment against Braga.

The scoreline and their recovery from a two-goal deficit will suggest this was one of Old Trafford's "great European nights" but although they are now almost Frankel-like certainties to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League, Sir Alex Ferguson would know that Europe has hardly trembled at their progress.

This was the eighth time in a dozen matches this season that his side had fallen behind. That United have lost only two is a testament to their resilience but they cannot afford too many repetitions.

"I cannot understand our defending," Ferguson said. "We are making it difficult for ourselves. I have been saying for some time that our forward play keeps getting us through. We had a real momentum to our game in the second half and we produced a result that most people would not have expected."

This is only partially true. The United comeback has been one of the great themes of their years under Ferguson and, once Javier Hernandez headed home the first of his two goals, it was always likely Braga would crack. Whether a member of the Champions League elite would have done is a very different matter.

"I cannot get to the bottom of our defending at all," said Ferguson. "The goals we are losing, they are all different types. We are certainly not getting good starts to games that's for sure.

There will be several things to sort before they travel to Chelsea on Sunday. Shinji Kagawa, who was unable to stamp his quality on proceedings, went off at half time with a knee injury and, although he will have it assessed, he is unlikely to make the journey to London. Neither will Anders Lindegaard, who injured his thumb in training.

If there had been complacency after the somewhat unconvincing, wins over Galatasaray and Cluj, Ferguson had tried his best to dispel it with programme notes that warned that, however straightforward Group H appeared, the Champions League still possessed a capacity to surprise. BATE Borisov had beaten Bayern Munich 3-1 in the previous round. "And let's be honest," he said. "How many of you know where Borisov is?"

Braga is in northern Portugal and within 90 seconds they were ahead. When former Newcastle midfielder Hugo Viana was given far too much time to deliver a fine, deep cross into the heart of the United area, the 33-year-old Brazilian Alan, whose goal had knocked Liverpool out of the Europa League last year, rose past Alexander Buttner to head it home.

If that was a slap in the face, what followed was a punch to the stomach. Eder, from the old Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, brilliantly turned Michael Carrick, who was to prove a very makeshift centre-half, and delivered a low cross that Alan ran between Buttner and Jonny Evans to slide home.

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



United may be Ming-vase fragile in defence but Ferguson still possesses some often irresistible options in attack. It helped that Braga's left-back, Elderson, did not bother to mark Hernandez, who had only Beto to beat when he met Kagawa's cross.

Just after the hour, Manchester United were level as Robin van Persie's corner struck Carrick on the back and looped towards Evans. The defender took one massive swipe at the ball, missed but saw it come back to him off Alan's shins, had another go and scored. There was only one way this match was going to end and it came when Tom Cleverley sent in a cross that found Hernandez who was left unmarked to score his second.

The last time Manchester United had overturned a two-goal deficit to win a Champions League fixture had been in the 1999 semi-final against Juventus in the Stadio delle Alpi. That was a portent for what was to follow in the final against Bayern Munich but Ferguson would know that, despite the chants of "Glory, Glory Man United" that flowed from the Stretford End last night, this was not a performance that wins European Cups.

Booked: Braga Custodio, Elderson.

Man of the match Alan.

Possession: Man United 59%. Braga 41%.

Attempts on target: Man United 4. Braga 3.

Referee M Mazic (Serb).

Attendance 73,195.

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect