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Manchester United lose in Kazakhstan as Ole’s side throw away first half lead

Then again, who knows, maybe they will be little more than a quiz question in years to come. A curiosity. What was the youngest United team that ever played in Europe?

This one. Younger than the Busby Babes and any that have gone before at an average of 22 years and 26 days old – even younger if you stick to the outfield players and discount 36-year-old goalkeeper Lee Grant.

Of course, it’s too early to tell how far these boys can go, collectively or individually, and certainly if you judge them under these circumstances.

At the end of a peculiar night, United had been beaten in the Europa League for the first time this season against an Astana side that picked up their first points in the competition.

Solskjaer’s young team took the lead in the first half before losing their way in the second.But he knew the risks when he named his team, just as he knew that United were already through to the knockout stage from Group L.

FC ASTANA (4-4-2): Eruc; Rukavina, Postnikov (Janga 90+1), Logvinenko, Shomko; Beysebekov, Maevski, Sigurjonsson, Rotariu; Khizhnichenko (Pertsukh 85), Murtazayev;

Subs not used: Muzhikov, Zhakipbayev, Mokin, Zhalmukan, Prokopenko

Scorers: Shomko (55), Bernard OG (62)

Booked: Sigurjonsson, Logvinenko, Beysebekov, Shomko

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Grant; Laird, Tuanzebe, Bernard, Shaw; Garner (Ramazani, 84), Levitt; Chong (Bughail-Mellor 65), Lingard, Gomes (Galbraith 89); Greenwood

Subs not used: Puigmal, Bughail-Mellor, Kovar, Taylor, Mengi

Scorers: Lingard (10)

Booked: Levitt, Lingard

Referee: Donatas Rumsas

This was a calculated gamble at the end of a 6,000-mile round trip to a country on the doorstep of Mongolia where temperatures dropped as low as minus 20 degrees.

Fortunately the Astana Stadium is covered and heated with a plastic pitch, but it was still a chilly night for a game that kicked off just before 10pm.

Given that United arrived at 5am on Wednesday morning, tried to stay on UK time while they were here and flew back through the night, it’s no wonder Solskjaer wanted to leave most of his senior players at home.

He gave three of the youngsters – Ethan Laird, Di’Shon Bernard and Dylan Levitt – their full debuts and there was a substitutes’ bench full of new faces.

Grant also started for the first time having only played 20 minutes off the bench against Derby in the EFL Cup in the 18 months since he arrived at Old Trafford as United’s third-choice keeper.

Levitt shone alongside James Garner in midfield and right-back Laird was a threat down the flank, but Bernard will not have quite such fond memories of this occasion after his own-goal proved decisive.

partly down to bad luck.’Bernard wasn’t the only young one was upset. The game turned on a moment in the 54th minute when Luke Shaw presented Tahith Chong with an open goal and he somehow spooned his attempt over the bar. Astana levelled 38 seconds later and never looked back.

‘He stood up in the dressing-room and said it’s a different game if he scores. He took the responsibility,’ added Solskjaer.’But no forward or striker should ever worry about missing chances. That’s just part of growing up.

I think I did once as well!’United’s young team were rewarded for a confident, composed start when they took the lead in the 10th minute. Jesse Lingard, the oldest outfield player at 26 and captain for the night, rifled a shot into the bottom corner for his first goal since January.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks to his Manchester United players on the touchline during a brief interval in the match.

But Astana grew in confidence and equalised nine minutes after the break. Chong was still wondering how he had missed his opportunity when Dmitriy Shomko controlled the ball at the other end of the pitch and drilled a shot beyond Grant.

United’s inexperience showed as they threatened to fall apart but, credit to them, they rallied and it needed two excellent saves from goalkeeper Nenad Eric to deny Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood in the dying minutes.

‘Of course, we’re disappointed with the end result, but I’ll definitely take the positives,’ said Solskjaer.

ajay
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