Bucharest, Romania, Oct 19: Wayne Rooney converted two second-half penalties as Manchester United struggled past little-known Romanian side Otelul Galati 2-0 to boost the English team's chances of qualifying from Group C of the Champions League.
The England striker earned the Premier League champions their first group victory by scoring his first from the spot in the 64th minute after Sergiu Costin's handball and then repeating the feat in stoppage time after he was fouled by Liviu Antal.
Both teams finished the game with 10 men, with United captain Nemanja Vidic harshly given a straight red card for a clumsy foul on Gabriel Giurgiu in the 66th before Milan Perendija was dismissed a minute from time for his second booking of a scrappy match at the new National Stadium in Bucharest.
United opened its group campaign with back-to-back draws, to Benfica and then Basel, but Alex Ferguson's side climbed a place to second—two points behind Benfica—with this nervy victory ahead of a return match against Otelul at Old Trafford in a fortnight's time.
“I'm satisfied with the result. It was a long night and we had to be patient,” Ferguson said. “I don't think we were lucky at all. We were the better team. I think we improved in the second half.”
Otelul coach Dorinel Munteanu was bitterly disappointed by the defeat.
“We had a good first half but we lost. I am very upset,” he said. “We played well against a team against which I thought we had no chance ... I have nothing to reproach the players for, but defeat remains defeat.”
Ferguson took no risks with his lineup, selecting close to his strongest possible side against a team he acknowledged he had never heard of before the draw for the group stages took place.
That included a recall for Rooney, who started on the bench in United's 1-1 Premier League draw at Liverpool on Saturday, as well as strike partner Javier Hernandez and Vidic, who was back after a long absence with a calf problem.
Even with all their star names, the visitors struggled to break down a hard-working Otelul side, which wasn't without chances of its own in only its third ever Champions League match.
“They are very hard-working and organized team,” Ferguson said. “Their coach (former Romania midfielder) Dorinel Munteanu should be pleased. It's not easy to chase the ball all night and they should take credit for that.”
Indeed, the first opportunity fell to the hosts, Vidic giving the ball straight to Branislav Punosevac, whose shot was directed too close to goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard.
United was largely restricted to long-range shots, with Anderson off target with one effort and Patrice Evra having another well saved by goalkeeper Branko Grahovac.
Rooney, who was subdued in the first half, had a free kick saved in the 31st while United went closer in the 42nd when Michael Carrick sidefooted just over from Nani's cut-back.
United looked to be running out of ideas but Costin crazily gave the team a helping hand.
The center back stuck his hand out to block Rooney's cross in search of Hernandez and German referee Felix Brych had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Rooney had missed his last penalty attempt—in the 3-1 Premier League win over Chelsea at Old Trafford last month—but made no mistake this time, sending Grahovac the wrong way.
Just when it seemed United would go on and stroll to victory, it was reduced to 10 men in the 66th for Vidic's reckless challenge on Giurgiu by the right touchline near the halfway line.
“It was a little bit harsh ... but I thought his foot was high,” Ferguson said. “I can understand the referee's interpretation of the incident. Maybe it's a bit different in Germany.”
It meant Ferguson's men had their backs to the wall for the final quarter of the match and they had to battle hard to preserve the lead.
A shot by Antal was excellently blocked by the sprawling Carrick, playing as an emergency center back until Jonny Evans was brought on for Antonio Valencia a few minutes later, and Costin almost made amends for his handball by heading just over from an outswinging corner.
After Nani hit the post on a rare United break, the balance of the game swung again when Perendija was given a second yellow for a foul on Hernandez and Rooney made the hosts pay by slotting home his second penalty in the second minute of injury time.
The striker picked himself up after being floored by Antal and his resulting spot kick had too much pace for Grahovac, who guessed the correct way this time.
Otelul slipped to a third straight defeat in its first Champions League campaign, leaving a three-horse race for the two available qualifying spots.