16th February, 2012
Manchester United marked their UEFA Europa League debut with a win Thursday night after goals from Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez ensured a 2-0 first-leg advantage over Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena.
Young, who has only just recently returned to action following a lengthy injury lay-off, scored United’s first goal on 59 minutes before Hernandez added the second five minutes from time to give the English side a commanding advantage.
United had found themselves in European football’s second-tier tournament following their shock failure to qualify for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League last December.
Even so, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson stayed true to his pre-match pledge to take the competition seriously, naming a strong starting line-up to face the four-time European champions.
A low-key first half saw United start confidently, dominating possession and territory in the opening 20 minutes without seriously testing Kenneth Vermeer in the Ajax goal.
Wayne Rooney was at the heart of United’s best work, and had the English champions’ first shot on goal after 19 minutes only for Vermeer to gather easily.
“I’m delighted with the scoreline,” said Ferguson. “It was a very ordinary performance by us. We didn’t reach any great heights in the game but we did improve in the second half and we deserved to win it.”
Ferguson said Hernandez’ late strike had given United a golden chance to advance to the last 16. “It gives us a good opportunity,” Ferguson said. “We’re not taking anything for granted but at home at Old Trafford, we’ve now got a good opportunity to get through.”