Sir Alex Ferguson's gamble backfired badly as not even the returning Wayne Rooney could conjure up a Champions League goal against Rangers. In truth, it was less of a battle, more a stout rearguard action on Rangers' behalf, which was fully deserving of a point at Old Trafford, if only for their strict adherence to Walter Smith's limited game plan. A bad night for United was made even worse by a serious injury to Antonio Valencia, who suffered a broken bone around the ankle that will doubtless rule him out for several months. Let loose again after missing out on the Everton game, Rooney barely got a decent sight of the Rangers goal, let alone come close to finding it. Darron Gibson did threaten with an array of pot shots but a much-changed team had run out of ideas long before the six minutes of injury time Valencia's horrific misfortune forced. Rooney's name was one of 10 changes to the United team that faced Everton. Rio Ferdinand's was another. It was a staggering number for the first game of club football's most prestigious competition. Ferguson has made similar mass alterations before but he usually reserves it for the last couple of games in the group phase, usually when qualification is already assured. For all the United manager's talk of a Rangers history he grew up on during those childhood days in Govan, it is a measure of how far Scottish football has fallen that he felt able to take on the challenge of beginning another European season with a win by placing his trust in Champions League rookies Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling. It is a measure of Ferguson's old club's stubbornness that the move backfired so spectacularly.
From the first whistle, United met two lines of blue; the first of four, the one behind of five, that offered precious little room to breathe. Gibson's trusty right boot can usually be relied upon for a pot-shot or two and the Irishman did go close on a couple of occasions. United also had a penalty claim for handball against David Weir turned down, Rooney smart enough to vent his frustration at the goal-line official who will become a familiar presence as the tournament progresses. Yet it summed up the hosts difficulties that Rooney should be racing back into his own half trying to retrieve possession when he turned his left ankle. As he hopped away from the innocuous incident, Old Trafford, except the 3,000 or so Rangers fans who had trooped south of the border under so much scrutiny, held its breath. Rooney had mustered just one shot at the Rangers goal, which Allan McGregor dealt with easily enough. It seemed the visitors had parked all those buses that had taken them from their Wigan holding base bang in front of the goal. Kenny Miller put in an industrious shift as a lone front-man but there was never any pretence at trying to offer him any proper support.
The monotonous flow of the game continued after the interval, with Gibson flashing a volley wide after he had latched onto Madjid Bougherra's clearing header. Yet its inexorable one-way route was halted by Valencia's departure. It took medical staff almost five minutes to treat the South American, who left the field with an oxygen mask round his mouth, the distress of Kirk Broadfoot obvious, even though no blame could be attached to the Rangers man. The only positive from United's perspective was that Valencia's replacement was Ryan Giggs. The introduction of Michael Owen had a touch of desperation about it at a time when Rangers were starting to make a nuisance of themselves, even to the extent of having more shots on goal than their hosts. Not that the statistic translated into a meaningful save for Tomasz Kuszczak, who was watching from the other end of the field when Gibson sent another long-range effort fizzing over. The first corner of the entire contest came thanks to a deflected Gibson shot six minutes from time which was wasted by United.
After the game, Sir Alex Ferguson defended his team selection after making ten changes to the line-up that started the 3-3 draw at Everton on Saturday. Only Darren Fletcher retained his place although Ferguson was able to recall Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. Ferguson said: "The criticism will be why didn't I play a stronger team. I think I played a very strong team. People forget eight of them played against Chelsea in the Charity (Community) Shield. It's a terrific squad of players we have and there was no problem playing them. They should have won that game, but give credit to Rangers, their system is very difficult to break down." The one mistake he did admit to was not putting in-form Dimitar Berbatov on the bench as cover. He went on: "We wanted to see how Hernandez would do in a full game. Because of that we left Berbatov out and his form has been absolutely fantastic. He has been one of our best players this season and his ability to create in tight situations would have made a difference. I think we played with great intensity and good commitment. But Rangers just went back to the penalty box and it was successful. We said they had two draws away from home and lost 1-0 in Seville last season so they have a successful format."
Walter Smith admitted he would love to adopt a more creative approach to these games but insists the financial gulf between the top clubs in Europe and Scotland means teams have no option but to do whatever necessary to get results. He said: "I am proud of the way my players played. They are up against a situation that's not of their making. UEFA are allowing a situation to develop that is totally wrong. Bigger clubs in smaller countries are being drastically affected by the lack of finance and it's very difficult to compete. It's down to a manager to find a way, and in any walk of life it's easier to stop people doing something than it is to create. It's a circumstance that we don't feel proud of the fact we're doing it, but there's nothing else left for us. I must say that over the two or three years my boys have done it extremely well. I'm not just talking about Scotland. Clubs in Holland, Portugal and other countries are all suffering badly. They have next to no chance of winning the Champions League, the same as 85% of English teams have no chance of winning their league. It's far easier to try to stop other teams playing than it is to create. Maybe with a little more care we could have created one or two better opportunities. We didn't create that much at all. We would have expected to come and defend here and I thought we did that very well for the 96 minutes that we played."
On United's ten changes Smith said: "If you look at his team selection tonight can anyone say that any of those players wouldn't get into 80% or 90% of Premiership teams? Wayne Rooney would get into them all. We had to make sure we had to counter that. Manchester United were liable to create problems and we tried to nullify that and we managed to do it reasonably throughout the game. We have to do that. Scottish teams now are not in the situation we were in several years ago when we were able to compete to sign top players. We can't do that now so we have to find a way to try to succeed and nullify the opposition as much as we can. Rangers and Celtic have handled the situation in the Europa League but it's difficult in the Champions League with the financial disparity there is. I'm pleased with our players tonight they showed good determination and a high level of concentration and restricted Manchester United to very few clear-cut opportunities. We were always going to have to work very hard for a point and we did that. I'm disappointed that at times we weren't tight enough in our overall possession but I am happy to get a point."