Erik Ten Hag praised an inspired substitute performance from Marcus Rashford after he earned Manchester United a nervy Europa League win over Omonia Nicosia.
United manager Ten Hag introduced the England striker at the interval with the Cypriot side in front.
He scored twice, either side of also setting up fellow sub Antony Martial.
“I think the subs really had an impact today and that is really good. That makes the team stronger,” said Ten Hag.
The Cypriot side took a shock lead into half time through Karim Ansarifard, however Rashford equalised eight minutes after the break before setting up Martial just past the hour mark.
Rashford made it 3-1 late on, before Nikolas Panayiotou pulled one back.
Following United’s chastening derby defeat at the weekend, Ten Hag made three changes with the headline being the return of Cristiano Ronaldo in place of Rashford up front.
However it was ultimately the English forward who saved his side from an embarrassing defeat, while Ronaldo spurned several chances to score his 700th club career goal.
Ten Hag told BT Sport: “We were too static and we have to make the opposite movement to get behind. That’s why also we make two subs in that time and they had really an impact.
“I think Luke [Shaw] and Marcus definitely helped with that but also Anthony Martial, of course, with 2-1.”
Up against the Red Devils was an Omonia line-up which featured few star names – and with just one win in their past 26 European games – but managed by former Celtic boss Neil Lennon who had clearly emphasised effort and discipline.
The visitors made all the running in the first half an hour – nine shots and around 80 per cent possession – but the Cypriots stood up well and took their chance when it came.
United’s clearest chance came on 17 minutes when Antony was played through and tried to square the ball for Bruno Fernandes to score an open goal with keeper Fabiano committed. However, the £87m Brazilian winger played the ball too far behind his team-mate.
Fernandes hit the crossbar with a chipped effort a minute later, and shortly after Fabiano brilliantly denied a 25-yard effort from Antony before Iran striker Ansarifard struck.
Untied overcommitted at a corner, allowing a three-on-one Omonia breakaway with striker Bruno carrying the ball nearly 50 yards. The Brazilian played in Ansarifard, and the former Nottingham Forest striker superbly finished into the roof of the net.
The boisterous Nicosia crowd celebrated wildly and United were visibly rattled, leading to Ten Hag making a double half-time change with Rashford and Luke Shaw replacing Tyrell Malacia and the ineffective Jadon Sancho.
“I think we started well, a couple of chances, and then unnecessarily down,” Ten Hag said after the game.
“The mistake cannot happen, we have to take responsibility there. But then a really bad 10 minutes and we have to learn from that.”
It paid off eight minutes after the restart – Rashford was released by a raking ball down the left by Fernandes, Ronaldo’s run drew the defence and the England international had time and space to curl beyond Fabiano.
Ten Hag then introduced Martial after the hour, and he combined with Rashford to put his side ahead.
Martial’s second touch of the game began a flicked one-two with Rashford, the third saw him finish with power a shot past Fabiano at the near post.
It also gave Martial more valuable minutes after an injury-interrupted start to the season, having scored twice after coming on as a sub against Manchester City on Sunday.
“We have already seen that [he can be important] in pre-season,” Ten Hag said.
“It was really a big disappointment for this team, for me, when he got injured in the last 10 minutes against Atletico Madrid [in the final pre-season friendly].
“So, we missed him in the first couple of weeks and that also had an effect on our team performance.”
Ronaldo meanwhile continued to struggle, his clearest opening coming when Diogo Dalot pulled the ball back to him eight yards out with Fabiano stranded, but somehow he contrived to hit the post.
Instead Ronaldo had to settle with an assist for United’s third and Rashford’s second, firing a low cross into the six-yard area for a tap-in.
Spirited Omonia were not done yet though, reducing the deficit almost straight away as Panayiotou turned a tricky bouncing cross home with his left foot.
United saw the game out, but remain second in Group E after Real Sociedad won 2-0 in Sheriff – meaning a play-off against a team dropping out of the Champions League to reach the knockout stages remains a possibility.
- 40Ribeiro de Freitas
- 73MileticSubstituted forBezusat 82′minutes
- 42DiskerudSubstituted forPanagiotouat 72′minutes
- 76CharalampousBooked at 62mins
- 11BarkerSubstituted forPapoulisat 61′minutes
- 7Souza da SilvaSubstituted forLoizouat 72′minutes
- 18AnsarifardSubstituted forKakoulliat 61′minutesBooked at 87mins
- 1de Gea
- 6MartínezBooked at 87mins
- 12MalaciaSubstituted forShawat 45′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 18CasemiroSubstituted forMcTominayat 82′minutes
- 21dos SantosSubstituted forFredat 74′minutes
- 8Bruno FernandesSubstituted forMartialat 62′minutes
- 25SanchoSubstituted forRashfordat 45′minutes
- 7Cristiano Ronaldo
Match ends, Omonia Nicosia 2, Manchester United 3.
Second Half ends, Omonia Nicosia 2, Manchester United 3.
Luke Shaw (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Luke Shaw (Manchester United).
Loizos Loizou (Omonia Nicosia) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt missed. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Marcus Rashford.
Attempt saved. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Diogo Dalot.
Attempt saved. Fred (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top right corner.
Lisandro Martínez (Manchester United) is shown the yellow card.
Andronikos Kakoulli (Omonia Nicosia) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Lisandro Martínez (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Andronikos Kakoulli (Omonia Nicosia).
Goal! Omonia Nicosia 2, Manchester United 3. Nikolas Panagiotou (Omonia Nicosia) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the top right corner. Assisted by Andronikos Kakoulli.
Goal! Omonia Nicosia 1, Manchester United 3. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) right footed shot from very close range to the centre of the goal. Assisted by Cristiano Ronaldo following a fast break.
Attempt missed. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Marcus Rashford following a fast break.
Substitution, Omonia Nicosia. Roman Bezus replaces Nemanja Miletic.
Substitution, Manchester United. Scott McTominay replaces Casemiro.
Corner, Omonia Nicosia. Conceded by Lisandro Martínez.
Attempt missed. Andronikos Kakoulli (Omonia Nicosia) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) hits the left post with a right footed shot from very close range. Assisted by Diogo Dalot.