Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Manchester United’s debutants despite the club’s youngest ever European side falling to defeat in Kazakhstan.
The 6,000-mile round trip to face Astana is the furthest the Red Devils have ever travelled for a continental match, just as they have never had to contend with the kind of cold experienced around Nur-Sultan.
It was far warmer inside the Astana Arena due to the roof under which United’s young side started the Europa League tie brightly, with stand-in captain Jesse Lingard opening the scoring with a fizzing low finish.
Tonight, a boyhood dream came true for me. To captain Manchester United has been a lifelong ambition ever since I joined the club at 9 years old. Manchester is my city, Manchester United is my club. I am truly honoured to captain the club tonight and lead this young team#Honoured pic.twitter.com/tTYmSxK6Ja— Jesse Lingard (@JesseLingard) November 28, 2019
But already eliminated and previously pointless Astana grew into the Group L encounter, with Dmitri Shomko’s strike and an own goal from United debutant Di’Shon Bernard sealing a surprise 2-1 win for the hosts.
“Definitely (there are positives),” manager Solskjaer said.
“Of course we’re disappointed with the end result but I thought we started the game fantastically, the boys took control of the game, scored a fantastic goal.
“The response after they scored two was also good. Of course I’m disappointed with that 10-minute spell, you could feel pressure was coming. We couldn’t get on the ball as we did.
“But some fantastic performances by the three young lads who made their debuts, all were excellent.
“I think some of these (young players I brought to Kazakhstan) might benefit from going out on loan because they need men’s football and today they got the taste of it, some of them.
“But some are also knocking on the door for us. You could see the way we dominated midfield. I thought Dylan (Levitt) and Jimmy (James Garner) playing together – it’s nice to see midfielders dominating the game.
“Di’Shon was so composed. Ethan (Laird), especially first half, was marauding down the right-hand side, so some of these have done themselves a good favour.”
Debutants Levitt, Laird and Bernard were part of an outfield line-up with an average age of just 20 years and 221 days.
Even with 36-year-old goalkeeper Lee Grant making his first start, the overall average was 22 years and 26 days – the youngest side United have fielded in a major European competition.
D’Mani Bughail-Mellor, Largie Ramazani and Ethan Galbraith made their first appearances as second-half substitutes, while Solskjaer wants Bernard to remember the positives after his own goal.
“He was disappointed, of course,” Solskjaer said. “He’ll remember that from his debut, but I want him to remember the other 92 minutes or every other touch he had because he defended well.
“He had some last-ditch clearances. I thought he did excellent and he’s so composed on the ball as well.
“Sometimes strikers miss chances and sometimes defenders score an own goal. That’s partly down to luck and bad luck. I thought he did really well. That’s what I wanted him to remember this game for.”
Solskjaer does not want Tahith Chong to beat himself up either, having wasted a glorious chance to make it 2-0 moments before Astana levelled.
Asked if he had spoken to the winger, the Norwegian said: “Yeah, of course, but he said the same in the dressing room. He stands up and says it is a different game if he scores and he takes the responsibility.
“But no forward or striker should ever worry about missing chances. That’s just part of growing up. I think I did once as well.”