Astana scored two goals in the second half to overturn a Manchester United lead and win the game 2-1 in Kazakhstan.
AEuropa League group game against the champions of Kazakhstan is thousands of miles away from where Manchester United want to be and amid the bitter cold of this shivering landlocked nation came another stinging reminder of how far they have fallen.
Astana had not picked up a single point in the Europa League and had scored one goal before this, yet they have now beaten the former champions of Europe. Forget the fact this was virtually a youth team; forget that the United side that starts against Aston Villa on Sunday will not include any of these names, this was still a bad defeat.
It means United will need to beat AZ Alkmaar in their final group game to ensure they avoid one of the Champions League teams dropping into the Europa League after Christmas.
The record books will show that Astana defeated the mighty Manchester United. That will not come with an asterisk next to it. No matter how easily the excuses came about playing an experimental line up or how this did not really matter as they had already qualified, United have lost to a club they would never have dreamt of even playing when they were at the height of their power.
At the very least, it requires a sharp intake of breath. It also illustrated how far some of these young players still have to go before they are good enough to pull on a United shirt in the Premier League.
The fact this was United’s youngest ever side for a European fixture, was a luxury earned because a place in the knockout rounds was already secure. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could leave the senior players at home to prepare for Sunday’s game against Villa and have a good look at United’s boys against Astana’s men. It was a useful exercise in that respect.
“We are disappointed with the end result, but there are positives to take,” said Solskjaer. “We started really well, took control of the game and scored a really good goal.
“I thought the three young boys who started the game were excellent and the only part I wasn’t happy with was the ten minutes when they scored their two goals, you could tell the pressure was coming. These boys need men’s football, they got a taste of it tonight.”
Tahith Chong misses an open goal 🙃— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) November 28, 2019
Not even a minute later Astana equalise 😶 pic.twitter.com/zGla6jX0cL
The best of them will learn a lot, although it will not be one Tahith Chong remembers with fondness. Once thought to be the best of the new generation, Chong’s progress has stagnated, and he missed an open goal that would have put United 2-0 up 38 seconds before Astana equalised and was hauled off moments later.
There were more encouraging contributions, not least from one of the seven debutants on the night, Dylan Levitt, who looks a fine player in the middle of the pitch. Ethan Laird was tidy and efficient and at centre back, Di’Shon Bernard looked composed in the first half, albeit more ruffled in the second.
Having almost sliced one clearance into his own net, Astana’s second goal will go down as his own goal, although the real blame lay with Luke Shaw.
Back from injury, Shaw looked well off the pace and Astana scored because he could not get back into position at left back, allowing his opposite number Antonio Rukavina to advance unopposed before his shot deflected in off Bernard.
Solskjaer was still pleased and this was a game that may have helped a little with the rejuvenation of Jesse Lingard.
A player who has been struggling for form and was in danger of finding himself surplus to requirements gave United an early lead. At the age of 26, Lingard’s career has lost momentum and focus, but given the captain’s armband he delivered a smashing finish from the edge of the area.
United were in total control for much of the first half and although Astana gradually asked a few questions, Lee Grant had one save to make before the break, a simple gathering of a shot by Abzai Beysebekov.
Astana began to look like the more threatening side after half time, but United should have killed the game off before the hour mark when Chong, with an empty net in front of him, scooped the ball over from six yards out with a careless finish.
The home team were level within seconds, as Dimitri Shomko turned and rifled a shot beyond Grant. Poor Chong could not look his teammates in the eye as they walked back for the restart and things unravelled from there. Astana should have had a third when Runar Sigurjonsson fired wide with just the goalkeeper to beat. A dead rubber, but no game is ever meaningless.