United do it the hard way after Hernandez gives them fine start

Manchester United 2 Marseilles 1 (Man Utd win 2-1 on aggregate)

Old Trafford

It is another season of living dangerously at Manchester United, yet for a team who again insisted upon tiptoeing along the brink of calamity last night they find themselves in the Champions League quarter-finals draw on Friday with the possibility of a second historic treble still on the cards.

Beset with injuries, especially to a defence that wobbled alarmingly at times, United won this game because they had its shrewdest penalty-area assassin in Javier Hernandez. The divine being to whom the Mexican appeals on his knees before kick-off was not just smiling on his young devotee last night, he appeared also to be wearing a red and white scarf.

United needed their good fortune at times. They lost two right-backs to injury – John O'Shea and then Rafael da Silva, who had been sent on to replace him – and having rode their luck, they conceded an own goal through Wes Brown with eight minutes left. Had Marseilles possessed a striker with just half Hernandez's composure, then Sir Alex Ferguson might have been left to concentrate on the Premier League and the FA Cup.

His team were without Nemanja Vidic again who was ruled out with a calf injury and with Rio Ferdinand already missing, the responsibility was on Brown and Chris Smalling once again. They muddled through in the end but there were a few anxious moments.

On the encouraging side, there was a performance from Wayne Rooney, particularly in the first half, that was reminiscent of his long-lost form from before last March. Playing just behind Hernandez, it was his passing that made United's first goal. That United are in the last eight, along with Tottenham Hotspur, is enough for now but how they approach Saturday's game at home to Bolton is quite another matter.

With no prospect of Ferdinand returning yet and Vidic, Rafael and O'Shea all doubtful, this is a United side that again requires patching up. Their options in attack and midfield are greater and should become even more plentiful with the imminent return of Park Ji-sung and Luis Anderson. Jonny Evans is back in training but the visit of seventh-placed Bolton is a test.

While United's back door swung open on its hinges at times last night they compensated with one of the best moves of the season for Hernandez's first goal within six minutes – thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of Rooney.

He started the move with a brilliant half-volleyed pass with the outside of his right foot to Ryan Giggs out on the left. Then Rooney put his head down and sprinted into the box to get it back. Collecting the return in the area, he beat everyone with his pass, including the Marseilles goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, so that Hernandez could sidefoot the ball in from less than a yard.

United's start suggested they were ready to tear Marseilles apart but it faded fast. As Ferguson had noted beforehand, this Marseilles team are blessed with an athletic, strong defence which relies heavily on the strength of left-back Taye Taiwo and the centre-half Souleymane Diawara, both of whom were impressive.

Taiwo was strong enough and fast enough to make Nani think twice about pushing the ball past him and chasing it down the right wing. Diawara, eventually caught out by Hernandez for his second goal, had the second of Marseilles' three good first-half chances. From Taiwo's cross on 36 minutes, he had a free header in the United area which he put wide.

But the best chance for the French side came just four minutes after Hernandez's opener. A well-judged flick from the winger André Ayew gave André-Pierre Gignac, the France international, a free run at goal. A £15m signing last summer, Gignac has struggled at Marseilles this season and it was not hard to see why in this instance. He snatched at his chance and put the ball well over.

Ten minutes before half-time, United lost O'Shea to a hamstring injury after he made a good run down the right. On came the volatile Rafael da Silva, who flew into an unwinnable challenge on Ayew shortly afterwards. Rafael was fortunate the Marseilles man chose to leap over him because it spared him a booking at a time in his career when he is picking up too many of them.

United had a shout for a penalty when Hernandez tumbled over Diawara in the 41st minute after Giggs cut the ball back to him but it looked like a collision engineered by the forward. A minute later and Marseilles had their third chance of the half when Loïc Rémy volleyed over when Smalling could not get enough distance on his clearance.

By the end of the first half, United had lost all the momentum created by that early goal. Rooney's best moment of the second half came at the start but he could not make that crucial second goal and gradually Marseilles came back into it. Only when the second of the Da Silva brothers came on – this time it was Fabio for his injured brother – did Ferguson use the break in play to change his team's system.

Ferguson brought Rooney out to the left of a three-man line behind Hernandez. Giggs was moved into the centre and Antonio Valencia, who had come on for Nani, played on the right. To give Ferguson his due, his tactical changes worked immediately.

On 75 minutes, Valencia turned on the ball down the right and returned the ball to Giggs with a sweetly timed pass inside the Marseilles left-back. Coming in from that wing he crossed the ball low for Hernandez who turned away from Diawara before the defender could react and tucked in his 16th goal of the season.

Before then, the game had started to look a little anxious for United. Rémy's ball across goal had been struck first time by Benoît Cheyrou into the arms of Edwin van der Sar. Earlier, Gabriel Heinze had misjudged a header from a corner.

Under pressure at another corner, Brown deflected the ball past Van der Sar to set up an anxious finish. Marseilles did not quite have the courage to finish United off, although they were given more than one invitation to do so.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Match rating: 6/10.

Referee: C Carballo (Spain).

Attendance: 73,996.

Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable