Anthony Martial saved Manchester United’s blushes as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side kicked off the Europa League knockout phase with a hard-fought draw at Club Brugge.
After Monday’s impressive, and much-needed, Premier League win at top-four rivals Chelsea, Solskjaer plumped for six changes in Belgium for the first leg of this round of 32 tie.
United and Club Brugge will resume battle at Old Trafford with the score poised at 1-1 after Martial raced through to level on a night which started with Emmanuel Dennis catching Sergio Romero in no man’s land.
The normally dependable Argentina international’s poor positioning from former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s goal-kick in the 15th minute summed up a largely poor first-half performance by the visitors.
Club Brugge looked well placed to secure the “miracle” win their head coach Philippe Clement spoke of in the build-up, so he must have been tearing his hair out when they shot themselves in the foot in the 36th minute.
From a throw-in that Harry Maguire had comically given away, Brandon Mechele’s bizarre decision to let the ball bounce was gobbled up Martial and the striker darted through to level coolly.
The France international, who opened the scoring at Stamford Bridge on Monday, also hit the post as United attempted to end a shocking first half with an undeserved lead.
The second period was a more even affair at the tired Jan Breydelstadion, with both sides having chances to take a lead into next week’s second leg in Manchester.
Solskjaer will be relieved to have emerged with an away goal and draw given how Club Brugge, unbeaten in two months, threatened from the outset.
Dennis was quick to cause problems and Victor Lindelof had to put his head where it hurts before Nemanja Matic helped clear in the opening minutes.
Romero’s poor decision making in the build-up to that chance did not help and the United goalkeeper’s evening got worse after Andreas Pereira saw an attempt saved at the other end.
Mignolet’s quick goal-kick sent Dennis scampering behind the United backline. Diogo Dalot and Brandon Williams failed to deal with the 22-year-old, who had the presence of mind to clip the ball over out-of-position Romero.
The Jan Breydelstadion rocked as much as United’s defence over the coming minutes, with the Blauw-Zwart running rings around the visitors as Mats Rits’ attempt deflected wide.
Dennis tried to gee up the crowd after the chance, just as he did when denied by Romero at the near post.
United were struggling to pass, never mind create a clear-cut chance, epitomised by Maguire’s incredibly poor five-yard attempt that found the advertising hoarding rather than team-mate Lindelof just inside his own half.
But that Club Brugge throw-in provided United with an implausible equaliser.
Mechele’s senseless decision to allow Maxim De Cuyper’s throw across his body was snapped up by Martial, whose pace and strength saw him race through before coolly curling a low shot past Mignolet.
The leveller gave United renewed energy and Martial somehow made enough room to get away a shot from just outside the box that rattled the near post as half-time approached.
Solskjaer’s side continued in the ascendancy immediately after the break and Diogo Dalot’s cross was nearly directed home by Jesse Lingard, while Martial’s surprise attempt to lay off to Juan Mata rather than shoot then let off Club Brugge.
The home side settled after that frantic start and Romero denied Dennis at his near post, before increasingly irate supporters threw drinks at the linesman.
Pereira and Ruud Vormer had attempts at either end as play became stretched, with Odion Ighalo introduced in a bid to snatch a late winner.
Odilon Kossounou spooned a glorious chance wide for the hosts and substitute Bruno Fernandes was causing problems as Club Brugge rocked.
Mata was denied before the offside flag was raised as the match ended edgily, with Charles De Ketelaere close to finding a Club Brugge winner at the death.
Forster save earns Celtic crucial draw
Fraser Forster saved a VAR-awarded penalty as Celtic fought out a 1-1 draw with FC Copenhagen in their Europa League last-32 tie in Denmark.
On a perishing night in the Parken Stadium, French striker Odsonne Edouard missed a couple of early chances before scoring with his third opportunity in the 14th minute, his clever finish taking his tally for the season to 25.
Neil Lennon’s side had controlled the game until the break but the home side responded and 34-year-old Senegal striker Dame N’Doye levelled in the 52nd minute.
In what was Celtic’s first experience of VAR in a competitive game, there was drama after Russian referee Sergei Karasev used a pitchside monitor to give Stale Solbakken’s men a penalty in the 78th minute for a Ryan Christie hand ball – his yellow card meaning he misses the return at Parkhead.
Forster came to his rescue to tip Jens Stage’s penalty onto a post and away, leaving the tie finely balanced heading into next week’s second leg.
Lennon made three changes for another big European night for the Scottish champions. Teenage right-back Jeremie Frimpong made his European debut and on the other flank Jonny Hayes came in for injured left-back Greg Taylor.
Christie took over from Leigh Griffiths, who was left behind in Glasgow with a niggle, and less than a minute had been played when he sent Edouard clean through on goal.
However, the 22-year-old’s shot was blocked by home goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson, with defender Victor Nelsson blocking Edouard’s next effort from a tight angle and the ball ricocheting out for a goal-kick.
Johnsson again thwarted Edouard after he raced onto a James Forrest pass three minutes later, and then saved midfielder Olivier Ntcham’s rebound shot.
It was an encouraging start for the visitors and the 3,000 or so Hoops fans packed behind the goal were soon celebrating when midfielder Callum McGregor took a Christie pass and moved the ball on to Edouard who this time dinked the ball over Nelsson and Johnsson from 10 yards for a deserved opener.
Celtic controlled the tempo but the home side had a chance in the 31st minute when Bryan Oviedo drove in from the left but missed the target with a shot as unconvincing as his side’s first-half performance.
Copenhagen raised the tempo after the break and after Ntcham was caught in possession outside the box, Rasmus Falk played in N’Doye and he flashed a shot from 12 yards past Forster and in off the post.
The match was up for grabs.
McGregor fired high over the crossbar at the end of a swift Hoops break, before Mohamed Elyounoussi replaced Ntcham.
In the 70th minute, Edouard stabbed a Hayes cut-back at goal from eight yards but Johnsson blocked with his foot.
Nir Bitton replaced Hoops skipper Scott Brown before Celtic had to withstand a period of heavy pressure.
There was drama when referee Karasev went to the pitchside monitor to look at a penalty claim on Christie, and even more drama when Forster got his fingertips to Stage’s penalty to keep it out with the help of the woodwork.
Celtic will be favourites to make the last-16 but they will have Forster to thank if they succeed and only themselves to blame if they do not.