Manchester United made an emotional return to Belgrade on Thursday and, after a ceremony to remember the ‘Busby Babes’, eked out a first away win since March, 1-0, over Partizan.
Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the Europa League Group L game with a penalty kick after 43 minutes, but the hosts had eight strikes on target to just three by United.
The game marked the return to the ground where Matt Busby’s famous team of talented youngsters played their last game, a European Cup quarter-final against Red Star in February 1958.
The plane crashed in Munich on the way home and seven United players were among the 23 who died.
United had only played in Belgrade once since then, when they lost a European Cup semi-final to Partizan in 1966.
On Thursday afternoon, United held a commemoration ceremony where former players Bryan Robson and Mickey Thomas laid a wreath on the centre circle at the Partizan Stadium and vice-chairman Ed Woodward gave a speech.
“As soon as the draw happened, our attention turned to wanting to remember those who lost their lives in 1958,” he said.
“This was the last place, on this very ground, against Red Star Belgrade, when they played as a team together.”
“So for us as a club, there is a game tonight but for us the trip is also important for remembering those who lost their lives.”
For the match, United made eight changes from the team that drew at home with Liverpool on Sunday. Teenagers Brandon Williams and James Garner came into the team.
Williams, playing wing back, made a decisive contribution in the 43rd minute when he burst into the Partizan box and drew wild tackles from two home defenders. Martial rolled the penalty into the corner of the goal.
United spent much of the match defending.
Partizan’s Nigerian centre forward Umar Sadiq was dangerous throughout, hitting the post just before Martial’s goal and fizzing another shot just wide. Guinean Seydoubah Soumah and Japanese Takumah Asano both forced tricky saves from Sergio Romero.
“We expected a hostile environment but we got the win,” said United defender Phil Jones. “I thought Garner and Williams were outstanding.”
United can ensure a spot in the knockout rounds if the beat Partizan at Old Trafford on matchday four.
‘Our aim is to enjoy’
In a game in Bratislava, played in an unusual atmosphere after Slovan side-stepped a stadium ban for racism by giving 21,000 tickets to children, Wolves fought back from a goal down to win 2-1.
Andraz Sporar gave the home team an 11th minute lead in the Group K tie.
Romain Saiss levelled in the 58th minute with a low, long-range shot that bobbled through goalie Dominik Greif’s legs
Six minutes later, Vernon DeMarco gave Raul Jimenez a shove in front of goal and the Wolves striker scored the winner from the resulting penalty.
Diogo Jota collected one yellow card after 86 minutes and another one minute later, but Wolves held on to win away for the fifth time in Europe this season.
“We managed to take what we wanted from the game,” Nuno Espirito Santo, the Wolves manager, told BT, the British broadcaster. “Our aim is to enjoy this competition.”
A penalty also proved pivotal in a Group J game in Rome.
Nicolo Zaniolo gave Roma the lead over Borussia Moenchengladbach but Chris Smalling conceded a penalty in the fifth minute of added time and Lars Strindl, a second-half substitute, calmly converted.
Roma stayed top of the group while ‘Gladbach are last.
Porto were held 1-1 at home by Steven Gerrard’s Rangers after both teams scored with a long-range blast. Luis Diez gave Porto the lead after 36 minutes. Alfredo Morelos replied eight minutes later.
The two teams have four points, two behind group leaders Young Boys who won 2-0 at home to Feyenoord.