United survive late scare to seal last 16 date with Bilbao

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Manchester United defender Phil Jones admitted his team paid the price for complacency following last night’s 2-1 Europa League defeat against Ajax.

United led at Old Trafford but only progressed to the last 16 and a meeting with Athletic Bilbao as a result of their 2-0 win in last week’s first leg in Holland.

The Red Devils got off to the perfect start when Javier Hernandez put them in front after just five minutes. But they failed to capitalise and, after Aras Ozbiliz had levelled on the night, the midfielder then set home nerves jangling four minutes from time by dropping a free-kick on to the head of Toby Alderweireld, who powered home from close range.

Another for the visitors would have sent them through on away goals. Thankfully for a red-faced United, they avoided another dreadful European night on what has been a pretty poor campaign all round.

“I don’t think we were at our best tonight,” said Jones. “We got off to a great start, scored and seemed to be in control of the game.

“But a little bit of complacency set in. The manager said at half-time we’ve got to up the tempo and we didn’t do that for whatever reasons. We weren’t good enough in the second half, nowhere near.”

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson blamed himself for picking a back four lacking in experience.

He said: “I must say, I’ve got to accept I’m responsible for picking the team and tonight I picked too many young players in the back four positions – that was a big problem in terms of experience. It was a big risk I took.

“I thought we were very poor in the second half.”

Robert Huth claimed Stoke’s performance against Valencia at the Mestalla last night defied the critics who said Tony Pulis’s team selection had effectively raised the white flag in their Europa League last-32 tie.

Although the Potters lost 1-0 to go out 2-0 on aggregate, they turned in a good performance and could consider themselves unlucky with some key refereeing decisions.

Los Che struck the crossbar after 90 seconds and took the lead through Jonas in the 24th minute, but there were several chances for Kenwyne Jones while Diego Arismendi looked to have been fouled right on the edge of the Valencia box immediately prior to the hosts’ goal.

“Obviously they hit the bar in the first minute, but after that we possibly had the better chances,” Huth said.

“Kenwyne was through a couple of times and there were good crosses but it wasn’t to be.”

Huth was quick to salute the efforts of Stoke’s fans.

“They have been brilliant,” he said. “There are more than 4,000 of them and everywhere you looked you could hear them. Hopefully, we will see them again soon somewhere like this.”