Cristiano Ronaldo scored for the first time this season as Manchester United got their Europa League campaign back on track with a 2-0 win at Sheriff Tiraspol on Thursday.
Ronaldo had gone seven games without a goal this term before the United striker converted a first half penalty against the Moldovan champions.
It was the 37-year-old’s 699th club goal, but Ronaldo’s low-key celebration was in keeping with the comfortable nature of United’s third successive away victory.
This was the kind of unglamourous fixture Ronaldo seemed desperate to avoid when he launched his unsuccessful bid to quit Old Trafford for a Champions League club in the summer.
But the Portugal star will be relieved to have got on the scoresheet, after Jadon Sancho put United ahead with a well-timed response on the day he was left out of the England squad.
United lost their opening Group E match 1-0 against Real Sociedad last Thursday in a match overshadowed by the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
That gave Erik ten Hag’s side no margin for error in Chisinau and they were up to the task against a Sheriff side who enjoyed a stunning 2-1 victory at Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage last season.
United’s first trip to the far-flung outpost of Moldova served as a painful reminder of their diminished status following last season’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Sheriff’s home ground in Transnistria was deemed too dangerous by UEFA due to the war in neighbouring Ukraine, forcing the match to be moved 40 miles to the drab surroundings of the tiny Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau.
David De Gea’s complaint before the match that United “should be playing Champions League” contained a hint of arrogance, but Ten Hag acknowledged Sheriff were “a serious and decent opponent”.
Ten Hag named a strong side and Sancho, one of five changes, struck with United’s first meaningful attack in the 17th minute.
Just hours after learning he was not in the England squad for their Nations League games, Sancho reminded Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate of his quality.
Taking Christian Eriksen’s pass in his stride, Sancho cleverly switched direction inside the Sheriff area, giving himself room to plant a cool finish into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
Sancho celebrated his third goal this season by holding up a shin pad — one of a personalised pair given to the 22-year-old by a young fan recently.
United still doubled their lead in the 39th minute when Diogo Dalot was brought down by Patrick Kpozo and Ronaldo stroked home the spot-kick with ease.
United remain three points behind group leaders Real Sociedad, who won 2-1 against Omonia Nicosia.
Sociedad took the lead through Ander Guevara in the 30th minute and former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth bagged the 80th minute winner after Bruno equalised eight minutes earlier.
Andrea Belotti scored his first Roma goal to cap their 3-0 win against 10-man HJK Helsinki at the Stadio Olimpico.
Jose Mourinho’s side suffered a shock 2-1 loss against Ludogorets in their Group C opener, but they were always in control after HJK captain Miro Tenho was sent off in the 15th minute for a professional foul on Belotti.
Paulo Dybala took just 69 seconds to break the deadlock after coming on at half-time as he fired home from the edge of the area.
Lorenzo Pellegrini chested in the second goal after 49 minutes, with former Torino forward Belotti tapping home in the 68th minute.
In Group A, Bodo/Glimt beat FC Zurich 2-1 to take top spot with Arsenal’s game against PSV Eindhoven postponed after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Surprise Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Braga as Vitor Oliveira’s 77th minute goal settled the Group D tie.
In Group F, Midtjylland powered to a stunning 5-1 rout of Lazio, while Feyenoord’s Iran winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh hit a hat-trick in their 6-0 demolition of Sturm Graz.