Shock and confusion spread around Old Trafford , and the press box, as CSKA Moscow manager Viktor Goncharenko gleefully shook his fists before the half-time peep. Why was the goal given?!
Daley Blind was stunned as referee Gianluca Rocchi talked him through the decision as the teams trudged off at half-time. Although Blind was off the pitch when he was deemed to have played goalscorer Alan Dzagoev onside, he was still an active player despite being slumped by the advertising boards after momentum took him over the line.
But, following a rather sleepy first 45 minutes, where the returning Luke Shaw was one of the few highlights, United were sparked into life as they looked to a win a group they seemingly had sewn up.
It was going to take CSKA winning by seven goals and Basel beating Benfica for the most unlikeliest scenarios – an unwelcome return to the Europa League, to Rostov, to Odesa – but this is not how United wanted their final European match of 2017 to end.
And Paul Pogba, the man who gleefully nodded along to the Champions League anthem on his long-awaited return to Europe’s premier club competition back in September, was not about to let that happen.
In a week where his stamp on Hector Bellerin has dominated headlines, not to mention his curious hope that some of City’s players get injured, Pogba showed why United will badly miss him in the next three games.
Those Hollywood balls used to annoy some United fans, as Pogba stood and admired them once they left his right foot, but the Old Trafford faithful were united as they gleefully gazed at the trajectory of the ball as it crept behind CSKA’s ageing backline.
What a difference a year makes.
And it was through one of those lofted diagonals that United got back in the game, as Romelu Lukaku ended his latest drought in timely fashion before the hour mark.
Lukaku was then at the heart of Marcus Rashford’s winner when he brilliantly flicked on for Juan Mata who played a lovely one-two with Rashford to put United in front.
It was not quite the performance that will necessarily have the rest of Europe quaking in their boots; Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich could all lie in wait in the last 16 despite United winning the group. But United, and particularly Lukaku, showed heart.
Now for the derby.
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