Harry Maguire’s header and Andre Onana’s stoppage-time penalty save secured Manchester United a vital Champions League win against Copenhagen in their first home match since the death of Sir Bobby Charlton.
Tuesday’s Old Trafford encounter allowed the club to come together and pay tribute to the World Cup winner and all-round gentleman following his death at the age of 86 on Saturday.
Charlton starred for United and in 1968 led them to European Cup glory at Wembley, where Erik ten Hag’s men would love to return for June’s Champions League final.
One scored, one saved.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 24, 2023
First comes qualification from Group A, which misfiring United continued to make hard work of as they rode their luck to claim a 1-0 win against Copenhagen after losses to Bayern Munich and Galatasaray.
Maguire temporarily quietened his doubters with a second-half header against the impressive Danish champions, who pushed until the end and looked set to act as party poopers.
Scott McTominay brought down Mohamed Elyounoussi in the box in stoppage time, but goalkeeper Onana – so unsteady since joining from Inter Milan – saved Jordan Larsson’s penalty in a jaw-dropping ending.
It was a wild end to a night that started with a brilliant, fitting tribute to United and England great Charlton.
Ten Hag’s team began shakily after the emotional build-up, with Elias Achouri seeing an audacious long-range attempt stopped before Copenhagen so nearly went ahead in the fifth minute.
Maguire’s half-hearted clearance was closed down by Elyounoussi, who drove forwards and lifted over a cross from the right for Diogo Goncalves to volley into the ground and off the far post.
Viktor Claesson held up the loose ball and laid it back to ex-Southampton man Elyounoussi, who took a touch before seeing his fizzing follow-up blocked.
It was a shot across the bows for a United side lacking early cohesion.
Rasmus Hojlund fired over against his former club after being brilliantly found by Marcus Rashford, who saw a low shot from distance after cutting in from the left easily held by Kamil Grabara.
McTominay hit one over on the slide and headed another well off target as United struggled to break down Jacob Neestrup’s well-drilled side.
Copenhagen also had chances at the other end before half-time, when there was a smattering of boos.
United returned from the break with Christian Eriksen in midfield rather than Sofyan Amrabat but, like the opening period, the visitors started on top.
Onana turned away Lukas Lerager’s powerful first-time drive from the edge of the box with a firm hand in the 50th and Achouri lashed over as Copenhagen threatened.
Those moments woke United from their slumber.
The Stretford End bellowed for a penalty after Hojlund was unbalanced by physical defending before getting away a tame shot.
There were further spot-kick claims after Rashford raced through and went down when rounding Grabara, who had produced an excellent stop down low to his right shortly before to deny Eriksen from a Hojlund lay-off.
United’s period in the ascendancy proved temporary, with Goncalves, Denis Vavro and Elias Jelert attempting to beat Onana as Ten Hag turned to his bench.
Alejandro Garnacho replaced the ineffective Antony and had a glorious chance in the 67th minute. United broke at pace and Bruno Fernandes sent the Argentina international behind, only for a heavy final touch to allow Grabara to gobble up the ball.
This had the hallmarks of another difficult night for Ten Hag, only for Maguire to relieve building pressure.
Copenhagen could only clear a corner as far as Diogo Dalot, who laid off for Eriksen to swing in a cross from the right that the defender met with a powerful header home.
United should have added another in the 78th minute. A rapid break ended with Grabara smothering a Garnacho effort, before McTominay struck the follow-up into the Stretford End.
The match looked set to peter out to a much-needed win, only for McTominay to clumsily catch Elyounoussi in the box.
Referee Marco Guida pointed to the spot and Old Trafford held its collective breath. Substitute Larsson stepped up but Onana batted away the penalty with what proved to be the last touch of the game. The goalkeeper was mobbed as all around him celebrated.