Darren Fletcher returned from his career-threatening bowel condition as Manchester United scrambled to an unconvincing 1-0 win over Galatasaray at Old Trafford in the Champions League.
It was the Scot's first appearance since November 22, although he had been battling against the problem for eight months before that. Fletcher's arrival for Paul Scholes 11 minutes from time brought a deserved standing ovation, and was one of the few high points of a difficult evening for the hosts, who collected the victory but little else of note.
Michael Carrick's first Champions League goal in three years after just seven minutes proved enough, with United missing yet another penalty, their third of the season, through Nani.
Galatasaray were desperately unlucky, failing to get a clear penalty before United struck, hitting the woodwork twice before being denied by David de Gea's excellent double save and then having another spot-kick claim waved away in stoppage time.
Such was the significance of Fletcher's presence on the United bench that it even overshadowed Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa both being given their European debuts. Both were involved in Carrick's early opener.
Initially, Van Persie threaded a pass through to the midfielder. It was Kagawa who got the main credit though, slipping a return pass beyond the visitors' defence. Carrick stepped inside goalkeeper Fernando Musiera and even though the goalkeeper tripped him, the England man was able to steer the ball in.
Galatasary still looked capable of mounting a comeback bid and the Turkish champions already had cause to grumble. Sold short by Patrice Evra's lay-off, Nemanja Vidic lunged in on Umut Bulut.
Referee Wolfgang Stark might not have seen the clear foul. There was no excuse for the goal-line assistant missing it. Yet somehow Vidic, and United, escaped. Galatasaray's response to falling behind was for Nordin Amrabat to clip the crossbar with a curling shot from the edge of the area that gave returning keeper de Gea no chance.
It was not the last time Galatasaray struck the woodwork - Hamit Altintop was the unlucky man second time around after a free-kick had been rolled into his path. Again De Gea was rooted to the spot, thankful to see the ball flick wide of his left-hand post.
There then followed the third instalment of United's penalty embarrassment. After failures from Van Persie and Javier Hernandez already this season, Nani exuded confidence. Until it actually came to striking the ball that is. After a little shimmy, the Portugal winger seemed to freeze, and Musiera saved to his right.
- Darren Fletcher
- Michael Carrick
- Manchester United
- Champions League