Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s header handed Manchester United a 1-0 Europa League win against Zorya at Old Trafford on Thursday, with captain Wayne Rooney again benched by Jose Mourinho.
Despite Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and a string of star names being named in Mourinho’s side, United could not break down the visitors’ stubborn back line until deep in the second half.
Marcus Rashford hit the crossbar before the interval with a vicious shot from inside the box, but a game of few chances appeared to be drifting towards a draw that would have left United at risk of an early European exit.
Mourinho sent for Rooney after 67 minutes and he was soon involved in United’s opener, albeit inadvertently, as his mishit shot looped up for Ibrahimovic to head home from a yard out, the seventh different club the Swede has scored for in European action.
Having lost 1-0 at Feyenoord in their group opener, United needed a positive response against the Ukrainian side to boost their qualification hopes and they face a tough double-header against Fenerbahce next.
United are third in Group A despite their win, behind Fenerbahce and leaders Feyenoord, while Zorya bring up the rear with a single point from their two matches.
Zeljko Ljubenovic had an early sight of goal for the visitors and shot over, before Marouane Fellaini glanced a header wide as a strong United team made a slow start.
Ibrahimovic went close after 18 minutes, but his deflected strike drifted just wide after playing a neat one-two with Pogba.
United scored three goals from corners against Leicester City in the Premier League at the weekend and they almost did it again from the resulting set-piece, Rashford’s rocket of a strike cannoning off the underside of the crossbar.
Juan Mata could only divert a fine Pogba cross over after 38 minutes as United struggled to penetrate Zorya’s sturdy defence, before Fellaini’s downward header bounced over.
The second half had a similar pre-season friendly feel about it, with few chances for either side, and it took 66 minutes for either side to produce a shot on target.
Paulinho let fly with a curling effort from outside the box, but Sergio Romero dived to his right to turn the effort around the post, with Rooney almost immediately introduced by United.
It was Ibrahimovic who provided the only goal, however, with Rooney’s mistimed effort from a Timothy Fosu-Mensah cross bouncing into the turf and hanging up perfectly for the veteran Swede to nod in from close range, with Zorya goalkeeper Oleksiy Shevchenko badly out of position.
An equaliser was never likely as United closed out the match with ease to record back-to-back wins following Saturday’s crushing 4-1 victory over Leicester.