United scrape through as Ajax clean up at Old Trafford

Christian Eriksen of Ajax challenges Ashley Young of Manchester United

Alex Ferguson blames himself as inexperienced back four almost blow it for United

LAST UPDATED AT 08:31 ON Fri 24 Feb 2012

Manchester United 1 Ajax 2 (United win 3-2 on aggregate). Less than 24 hours after Alex Ferguson had been publicly contemplating a Europa League final against Manchester City his side came perilously close to being dumped out of the competition by Ajax. The Dutch club came back from a goal down at Old Trafford to score twice and win the second leg, leaving Ferguson as red-faced as one of his side’s shirts.
 
Afterwards the United boss admitted it had been another woeful European performance from his side but told reporters he was to blame: "It was nervy and disappointing. I've got to accept responsibility myself. I played so many young players in the back four and it was a big ask... for a European game it was too much of a risk."

Fergie plumped for a back four of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, along  with the Da Silva twins, and their inexperience at this level was exploited by an Ajax side who came to England with few people giving them any chance of turning the tie around. Two goals down from the first leg in Ajax, the Dutch club then suffered an early blow when Javier Hernandez netted on six minutes.

That should have been that, but as United showed in their ill-fated Champions League campaign they’re no longer the force they were at Old Trafford. Having drawn at home against Benfica and Basel in Europe’s premier competition, United found themselves level with Ajax on 37 minutes as Aras Ozbiliz fired home.
 
Only a great save from David de Gea stopped Siem de Jong's header from finding the net midway through the second half but Ajax did go in front four minutes from time when Toby Alderweireld headed home Ozbiliz's cross. United managed to hold out and go through to the last 16, leaving Ajax with the consolation of being the first Dutch club to win at Old Trafford.

"I thought we were very poor in the second half," conceded Ferguson, whose side face Athletic Bilbao in the next round next month.

Stoke City’s European adventure came to an end after they were beaten 1-0 at Valencia. The Potters had lost the first leg by the same scoreline and Jonas' first-half strike ended their hopes of progressing to the last 16. Despite the defeat Stoke boss Tony Pulis believes his side have benefited from their Europea League campaign: "To give Valencia two games like that shows just how far this football club has come," he said. "I, for one, have relished this competition." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.