Manchester United will be relieved that Champions League encounters with Roma are over in the short term after more violence outside the stadium here last night left three of their fans stabbed and seven – including a 16-year-old – in hospital. Eight months ago United supporters were the subject of a bloody police baton charge here.
An investigation will begin today into how United fans were ambushed by 50 Italians on the Duca d'Aosta bridge, a gathering point for Roma's Ultras, which visiting fans had been asked by the British embassy here to avoid. Two police charges were needed to separate fans after chairs, bottles and other missiles were thrown. Seven fans who were arrested – six British and one Italian – were all released without charge. Three of those hospitalised were treated for stab wounds.
Otherwise, United left the Eternal City in reasonable cheer after a side numbering only three first-team regulars held on for a draw against a near full strength Giallorossi. The young Irish centre-back Jonny Evans will have easier nights than this, in which the threat posed by both Francesco Totti and substitute Mirko Vucinic was backed up by an abysmal tackle which had Ahmed Barusso booked. But a makeshift defence stood firm and United aspired to clinching only a third win in 14 visits to Italy until they gifted the Italians too much possession in the second half and were punished for it.
The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was "satisfied" by a display which certainly took Evans, Danny Simpson and Gerard Pique beyond the levels which saw them so humiliated by Coventry City at Old Trafford. "They are improving," Ferguson said. "Training for the first team does help them. They don't get enough first-team football but tonight means if we do play them we won't be afraid."
United's creativity, a far cry from the sumptuous stuff which had won the group, was left to the captain, Wayne Rooney, and Nani, and though the Portuguese had a chance to sneak a victory in the last minute it took some dire defending from Roma to give Ferguson's men their goal on 34 minutes. A Nani corner found Pique running in unmarked to head home. After his opening goal against Dynamo Kiev in Manchester, it made it two in two group games for the promising young Spaniard.
There were other chances. A beautiful, 20-yard cross-field pass in the second half from Nani proved just beyond the reach of Chris Eagles who, at 22, and four years on from his debut, might hope to be imposing himself more. Had Louis Saha managed to control another precision through ball as he ran in at pace in the same phase of the game, United might just have doubled their lead.
But the second half was about Ferguson's youthful defence contending with the chaos created by the Montenegran substitute Vucinic. It was he who provided the deft pass on 72 minutes which found Mancini, who had slipped away from Wes Brown in the penalty area. The Brazilian curled a beautiful shot past Thomas Kuszczak to equalise. Vucinic immediately trapped and shot against the right post with a first-time effort and Kuszczak's good save from Ludovic Giuly after Totti's pass was one of many. Only Vucinic will know how he fired over from point-blank range as the ball rebounded into his path in the last minute.
Before leaving Rome last night Ferguson said he was disappointed by the violence. "It is something we hoped wouldn't happen. We wanted a nice game and all to go home. We need to know what happened."
Roma (4-2-3-1): Doni; Cicinho, Mexes, Ferrari, Barusso (Giuly, 62); Antunes, Pizarro; Esposito (Vucinic, 62), Taddei (De Rossi, 46), Mancini; Totti. Substitutes not used: Julio Sergio (gk), Panucci, Juan, Pit.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Kuszczak; Simpson, Pique, Evans, O'Shea (Brown, 54); Fletcher, Carrick; Eagles, Rooney (Dong Fangzhuo, 72), Nani; Saha. Substitutes not used: Heaton (gk), Lee, Hewson, Brandy, Eckersley.
Referee: M Hansson (Sweden).