Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a stoppage-time winner as Manchester United came from behind to secure a fortunate 2-1 Champions League Group F win over Villarreal at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
On the night he set the new record for the most appearances in the competition, the 36-year-old Portuguese delivered the killer blow to save his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from another disappointing result and the inevitable inquests.
“When you’ve got Cristiano on the pitch, you've always got a chance,” the Norwegian said. “Seriously, he’s so so good in front of goal. It’s a massive result for the team and for the spirit of the team,” he added.
United had fallen a goal behind to Paco Alcacer’s 53rd- minute opener before drawing level with a brilliant volley from Alex Telles but failing to make the most of the momentum shift.
After three defeats in their last four games, including the loss in Bern to Young Boys in the group opener, United could ill-afford another slip-up. But for long stretches of the game an upset looked very much on the cards and had the visitors been sharper in front of goal, the contest might have been over by the break.
Villarreal had beaten Solskjaer’s team on penalties in last season’s Europa League final and Unai Emery’s side’s excellent organisation and ability on the break again posed problems for a disjointed United.
Old Trafford erupted in relief and joy and Ronaldo picked up a yellow card for ripping off his shirt and throwing it into the crowd in his 178th Champions League match.
“We’re annoyed. The game was basically over, we just needed to see it out and we didn't. We need to learn from this. We were impeccable before that, taking the lead, creating chances, being better than Man United at Old Trafford,” defender Pau Torres said.
Atalanta top the group standings with four points, one ahead of Young Boys and United. Villarreal are bottom with one point after a cruel end to the match.