Robin van Persie missed a second-half penalty as Manchester United edged toward the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 with a 0-0 draw away to Real Sociedad on Tuesday.
The Dutch international had only been introduced by United boss David Moyes as a substitute, but saw his spot-kick come back off Claudio Bravo’s left-hand post 20 minutes from time.
Javier Hernandez and Van Persie had also passed up clear opportunities to put the visitors in front before the penalty, but they had to see the game out with 10 men after Marouane Felliani was shown a second yellow card in stoppage-time.
Another 0-0 draw between Shakhtar Donetsk and Bayer 04 Leverkusen means United continue to lead the Germans by a point, with the two sides set to meet in Leverkusen, Germany, in three weeks time.
“We are in a healthy position, you want to be top of the group and that is where we are,” Moyes said. “It was obviously disappointing not to take the three points, as I think if we had won we would have a very good chance of securing first place in the group, but we are still in a good position. It was a missed opportunity to win the game. We had some good chances in the second half and I think we were worthy of the three points.”
Despite picking up their first point in the group, any outside chances Sociedad had of progressing have all but disappeared.
Nevertheless, coach Jagoba Arrasate lauded his players’ effort against the physically stronger English champions.
“I have congratulated the players, they put in a huge effort and when the team does this all you can do is congratulate them,” Arrasate said. “We would have liked to have played better, but if you don’t do it that also has something to do with the opponents. They created danger and, apart from a short spell at the start of the second half, we didn’t create chances. When this happens, you have to accept the draw.”
Moyes was without the injured duo of Jonny Evans and Rafael da Silva, whilst teenage sensation Adnan Januzaj was also let out of the squad and Van Persie dropped to the bench with Sunday’s meeting against his old club Arsenal in mind.
However, United still started the better of a largely lifeless first half.
Shinji Kagawa had the best opening with an effort that was deflected wide from a lovely Wayne Rooney back-heel on 10 minutes.
Sociedad improved as the half went on and Alberto de la Bella came close to opening the scoring with the last kick of the half as his right-footed effort curled just wide.
Hernandez then somehow conspired not to give the visitors the lead five minutes after the restart when he blasted Kagawa’s low cross over the bar from close range.
With United still in search of a goal, Moyes sent on Van Persie and Ashley Young for Rooney and Hernandez just after the hour mark, and the Dutchman nearly made an instant impression as he first side-footed Young’s low cross off the post, then flashed another effort just wide.
Referee Nicola Rizzoli then incensed the home fans when he pointed to the spot for a very soft pull on Young by Markel Bergara.
However, the hosts were handed a reprieve when Van Persie’s fiercely struck spot-kick came back off the post and Sociedad nearly made the most of it when Xabi Prieto’s drive was turned goalward by Carlos Vela, but flew just past the post.
Antonio Valencia’s effort was cleared off the goal-line by Mikel Gonzalez as the game continued to open up in the final stages, but even after Felliani had been dismissed Sociedad failed to create another clear opening and had to settle for a point.