Jose Mourinho wanted heart from his Manchester United players and he got it at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
It really wasn’t pretty. It rarely is with United these days. In fact, there was something entirely appropriate about the nature of their winning goal and the man who scored it.
We were one minute into injury-time when Luke Shaw punted a hopeful ball into the box. Romelu Lukaku flicked the ball on and Marouane Fellaini controlled it under pressure from Loris Benito.
The Manchester United manager had grown frustrated with his side’s failure to score before Fellaini’s late intervention
Mourinho praises team after last-minute winner over Young Boys
The big Belgian — Mourinho’s Plan B who has increasingly become Plan A — swivelled to fire the ball beyond Young Boys goalkeeper David von Ballmoos and a less-than-full Old Trafford erupted. Fellaini erupted. No one erupted quite like Mourinho, though.
Down on the touchline, he tentatively kicked one crate of bottles and then decided to pick up the other before sending it crashing to the floor liked a crazed maniac.
United had avoided a second goalless draw here in the space of four days – and the boos that would undoubtedly have gone with it – and the embarrassment of failing to score in three home European games in a row for the first time in their history.
Instead of going to Valencia next month with the Champions League hopes in the balance, they are home and hosed; through to the knockout stage for the second year in a row.
Say what you want about Mourinho, but you have to give him that.
He was brave enough here to drop Paul Pogba and Lukaku to the bench and leave Alexis Sanchez out of the squad altogether following the dismal showing against Crystal Palace on Saturday when the Portuguese manager questioned the heart of his players.
MATCH FACTS, RATINGS, TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea 6, Valencia 6 (Mata 72, 6), Smalling 6, Jones 5.5, Shaw 6; Matic 5.5, Fellaini 7, Fred 6 (Pogba 65, 6); Lingard 5.5 (Lukaku 64, 6), Rashford 5.5, Martial 5.5
Subs not used: Romero, Bailly, Pereira, McTominay
Goals: Fellaini 90
Yellow cards: Matic 22, Valencia 72
Manager: Jose Mourinho 5
Young Boys (4-1-4-1): Von Ballmoos 6.5; Mbabu 7, Camara 6.5, Von Bergen 6 (Garcia 46, 6.5), Benito 6; Lauper 6; Sulejmani 6.5 (Fassnacht 66, 6.5), Sow 6.5, Aebischer 6, Assale 7; Nsame 6.5
(Moumi Ngamaleu 83)
Subs not used: Wolfli, Bertone, Moumi, Schick, Seydoux
Yellow cards: Camara 48, Benito 61
Manager: Gerardo Seoane
Referee: Felix Brych (Ger) 7
RATINGS BY MIKE KEEGAN AT OLD TRAFFORD
Fellaini fired home after Romelu Lukaku met a high ball into the box. For more from Sportsmail’s MATCH ZONE, click here.
Truth is, there are more productive things to do on a night in these days than watch United.
Mourinho’s side certainly won’t win any points for artistic merit, and it looked like being a painfully familiar story as a slightly less lethargic United laboured in front of their own fans.
In fact, they were thankful to David De Gea for an incredible save in the second half that prevented a frustrating situation becoming a whole lot worse.
But they got there in the end, and a team whose late shows at home in Europe this season have been restricted to getting stuck in traffic around Manchester before the previous two home games against Valencia and Juventus finally came up with a goal when it really mattered.
It could have been a much more comfortable night had Marcus Rashford converted the best of his chances with less than five minutes on the clock.
An over-hit pass from Shaw was deflected into Rashford’s path and the 21-year-old England forward sprinted clear with only Von Ballmoos to beat. However, his chip over the keeper cleared the crossbar as well by a matter of inches.
Mourinho turned away with a look of disgust and shook his head at the bench. It was not the only time he registered his displeasure at Rashford, who gave everything but once again failed to score the goal that would have justified his inclusion as the central striker.
Another effort was fired straight at the keeper in the 14th minute and two more flashed wide of the target as United struggled to make their superiority count.
Young Boys provided very little to cause to excite their magnificent fans — or worry De Gea — until added time at the end of the half when the ball reached Djibril Sow inside the six-yard box and he failed to convert it with an ambitious flick well off target.
Kevin Mbabu fired into the side-netting for the Swiss champions shortly after the restart but the second half was just as one-sided in United’s favour.
However, they became increasingly erratic as the minutes ticked by. Phil Jones ballooned a cross into the Stretford End, closely followed by a shot from the disappointing Anthony Martial.
Mourinho sent on Pogba and Lukaku in the 65th minute to try to turn the game, but it was Young Boys who came closest to scoring.
Ulisses Garcia’s shot from the edge of the area took two deflections off Chris Smalling and Mbabu on its way to goal, and the substitute was already celebrating when De Gea lunged to his right.
The United keeper somehow got to the ball and clawed it away, with replays showing it was right on the line.
The Old Trafford hierarchy don’t need to be told that they have arguably the greatest goalkeeper on the planet as they fret over De Gea’s contract negotiations, but even by his standards it was an extraordinary save and one that set up a late United surge.
Fellaini volleyed over and Smalling headed wide. Shaw’s frustration got the better of him when he pushed Jean-Pierre Nsame off the pitch as the Young Boys striker tried to waste time when he was substituted towards the end.
But you had a feeling that United might just do it as they pressed forward in search of a winner and the Swiss retreated to the edge of their own box.
News that Valencia were losing in Turin meant that one goal was all it needed.
Shaw tried his luck with a long ball towards the end of the box that picked out Lukaku. He got the vital touch and Fellaini did the rest.
It doesn’t paper over the cracks in Mourinho’s team. In some ways it exposes them even more. But United are through to the Champions League knockout stage and that’s all that matters for now.