Reuters / Andrew Yates Livepic

Manchester United made hard work of it, but eventually overcame minnow FC Rostov to progress into the Europa League quarter-finals thanks to a solitary 70th-minute tally from Juan Mata.

The 2-1 aggregate victory in Thursday’s Old Trafford tilt puts Jose Mourinho’s lot in the hat for Friday’s draw in Nyon, Switzerland. There were concerns in Stretford, however, after both Paul Pogba and Daley Blind were forced to leave the match through injury.

Rostov weathered United’s first-half onslaught before putting in a more spirited and adventurous performance in the second stanza, forcing three acrobatic saves from Sergio Romero through a Sardar Azmoun curler, Aleksandr Bukharov header, and Cristhian Noboa free-kick. Mata’s 3-yard finish, however, was enough to take all the spoils.

But United should’ve troubled the scoresheet much earlier. Zlatan Ibrahimovic cracked the woodwork twice and right wing-back Antonio Valencia repeatedly ravaged Khoren Bayramyan in the first 45 minutes. With the middle so congested, Mourinho’s side regularly looked to probe the flanks.

At the break, United had recorded 10 chances and taken a 68 percent share of possession.

The host’s inability to capitalise on its first-half chances threatened to haunt it in the second period. Rostov grew in confidence as the match wore on, but sloppiness in the midfield gifted possession in the middle of the park, culminating in Ibrahimovic scuffing a backheel into the path of an unmarked Mata at the back post.

The visitor will rue the thwarted efforts of “Iranian Messi” Azmoun, first-leg goal-scorer Bukharov, and Noboa that denied a famous result, but the fact Rostov was at this stage at all is remarkable.

After narrowly avoiding relegation in a play-off, the club’s existence was under severe doubt ahead of the 2015-16 campaign when its funding from the regional Russian government plunged due to the recession and housing of refugees from the eastern Ukraine conflict. Somehow, Rostov finished just two points short of a Russian Premier League title at the end of last season.

In Lancashire, Rostov could only name a four-man bench due to injures to Vladimir Granat and first-choice goalkeeper Soslan Dzhanaev, as well as suspensions to Aleksandr Gatskan and Timofei Kalachev. Now, the Russian club can hold its head high following a narrow elimination to one of the world’s most notorious teams.

With that notoriety comes a ruthless lack of concern for underdog tales, and United continues its trail for Europa League glory as the bookmakers’ favourite.

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