Round of 32 1st leg
Club Brugge 1-1 Manchester United
Anthony Martial pounced on a mistake to ensure Manchester United take an away goal into the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie with Club Brugge following a 1-1 draw on Thursday night.
The Belgian champions worked tirelessly throughout and were deserving of their 15th-minute lead when Emmanuel Dennis Bonaventure lobbed the onrushing Sergio Romero direct from Simon Mignolet’s goal-kick.
But Martial restored parity after an error from Brandon Mechele 16 minutes later with a composed finish beyond the former Liverpool goalkeeper.
The lively Bonaventure forced Romero into two saves from an acute angle while Odilon Kossounou squandered another fine chance as United extended their unbeaten run to five games.
Club Brugge head coach Philippe Clement, who played under Gordon Strachan for Coventry City during the late 1990s, said he side would require “a miracle” to advance from the tie – but it was the hosts who made the better start.
The Belgians, who were eliminated from the Europa League at this stage last season, very nearly took a third-minute lead as Luke Shaw switched off from a throw-in, Bonaventure saw his effort blocked by Victor Lindelof before Nemanja Matic hacked the ball to safety under pressure from Hans Vanaken.
It has been several decades since Club Brugge were considered among the continent’s elite, but the partisan home crowd were celebrating a contentious opener on the quarter-hour mark.
Moments after Mignolet had denied Andreas Pereira with a fine fingertip save, United felt they ought to have had a second successive corner when Matic’s effort was deflected wide. Referee Alexei Kulbakov awarded a goal-kick which replays showed was allowed to be taken despite a moving ball, and United paid the ultimate price.
Bonaventure – who scored twice against Real Madrid earlier this season – latched onto the long ball to lift his shot over the scampering Romero.
It was the first goal United had conceded in 408 minutes following four clean sheets and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were very nearly breached a second time three minutes later as Mats Rits dragged his shot from inside the box wide.
Bonaventure was proving a real nuisance to the United defence as just shy of the half-hour mark, he shrugged off the returning Diogo Dalot down the Brugge left before finding the legs of Romero at his near post.
United would make full use of their reprieve, but in fortuitous circumstances. There appeared very little danger as the debutant Maxim De Cuyper prepared to take a throw-in. Having picked out Mechele, the Brugge centre-back allowed the ball to run across his body, but Martial nipped in take possession, run clear and fire beyond Mignolet.
It was back in September 2015 when Martial, then a precocious 19-year-old famously scored beyond Mignolet to settle a contest against Liverpool. Some things never change.
The torrential rain that lashed around the Jan Breydel Stadion subsided in the second period, and both sides had chances to earn a slender lead heading into the second leg next Thursday at Old Trafford.
Kossounou’s sloppy pass allowed Juan Mata to set up Martial down the left channel, and his cross was very nearly deflected into his own net by Clinton Mata just four minutes into the restart.
Bonaventure was next to go close moments later as he was too quick and powerful for Shaw down the left, but again the acute angle got the better of him as his shot was kept out by Romero.
A raft of substitutions, including a second United appearance for Odion Ighalo, interrupted the flow of the second period, but Brugge still had a glorious chance to pinch a memorable win as Bonaventure’s cross was scuffed wide by Kossounou as United claimed a creditable draw.
Manchester United face Watford at Old Trafford in the Premier League on Sunday; kick-off is at 2pm. The return leg against Club Brugge is next Thursday at 8pm.