Anthony Martial’s first-half penalty proved decisive as Manchester United moved top of their Europa League group with victory at Partizan Belgrade.
Martial, making his first start since August, sent Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way from the spot after United’s 19-year-old defender Brandon Williams won the spot-kick.
Williams’ burst forward to draw a foul from Nemanja Miletic was one of the the few bright spots in an otherwise uninspiring United display.
It helped ensure that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team won for the first time in 11 attempts away from home with their only shot on target.
Williams and 18-year-old midfielder James Garner were among seven changes made by United’s Norwegian boss from the side that started in the Premier League against Liverpool on Sunday.
And initially at least, United controlled possession, with Scott McTominay wastefully heading Juan Mata’s free-kick wide and Jesse Lingard’s curling effort striking the right-hand post.
However, the hosts carved out chances of their own with on-loan Roma forward Umar Sadiq bending a 20-yard strike against the post.
United keeper Sergio Romero superbly preserved the visitors’ lead by parrying Seydouba Soumah’s drive after the midfielder cut past Harry Maguire, as Solskjaer’s side hung on to record their first win on their travels since their Champions League victory over Paris St-Germain in March.
While United monopolised the ball early on, their possession brought few chances against a Partizan side sitting fifth in the Serbian SuperLiga.
Neither McTominay’s close-range header nor Lingard’s strike against the woodwork were a by-product of intricate, fast-paced attacking play – the former from a set-piece, the latter after the ball broke loose following a tackle by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Under Solskjaer, United are arguably now geared more than ever towards counter-attacking, such are the limitations of his squad.
Recently described as a ‘quagmire of mediocrity’ by a member of staff at the club, those restrictions were particularly evident in midfield where Garner made his first start alongside McTominay and Lingard.
While Garner was neat and tidy, United’s midfield trio did little to address a familiar criticism among supporters – that the team simply does not possess the dynamism and creativity to breakdown perceived weaker opposition.
Solskjaer’s team arrived in Serbia having mustered just three goals in their last 540 minutes of competitive football, and after failing to register a single shot on target during their goalless Group L draw at AZ Alkmaar.
While this was marginally better, there was still very little in the way of invention.
Wan-Bissaka and Mata struggled to deliver quality balls from wide positions, while Martial touched the ball just 18 times in his hour on the pitch, compared with Marcus Rashford managing 22 touches in a 30-minute cameo.