Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was delighted with Marcus Rashford and defended Bruno Fernandes after Manchester United took a giant stride towards the Europa League semi-finals.
Thursday’s quarter-final first leg was the biggest match in European debutants Granada’s history but the Red Devils spoiled the hosts’ 90th birthday celebrations by triumphing in Andalusia.
Rashford overcame concerns about his fitness to score a superb opener from Victor Lindelof’s fine pass, but United looked set to return to Old Trafford with just one away goal for their domination and without three key players.
Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw all picked up bookings that rule them out of next Thursday’s return fixture, but Fernandes’ late spot-kick secured a potentially tie-deciding 2-0 triumph in Spain.
“It was an important goal, the second one there because 1-0 lead losing three players is not a good position to be in,” United boss Solskjaer said.
“I don’t think we deserved those five yellow cards but that’s happened. Delighted with the result.
“We gladly take the second goal. Of course it’s so vital away from home and we’ve created a good starting point for next week’s game for ourselves.”
United great Paul Scholes suggested Fernandes had been clever in going down to earn the key 90th minute spot-kick, but Solskjaer says the playmaker has the battle scars to prove he was caught by Yan Brice.
“To be honest, I haven’t seen it,” the United boss said. “I’ve just seen his eye when he came off. He got hit.
“Mick Phelan sat behind me in the dugout and he said he took one in the face and it’s a clear penalty apparently.
“I’ve not seen it, I’ve got to say. His eye is red and to score with just one eye open is also a skill.”
Fernandes’ impacted eyesight may explain the poor penalty, which Rui Silva somehow failed to keep out despite going the right way.
But there was not much the Granada goalkeeper could have done to stop Rashford’s opener after the 23-year-old showing strength, skill and composure to find the net from Lindelof’s pass.
“Fantastic goal,” Solskjaer said. “Great ball by Victor, great run and skill to bring the ball down like this we’ve seen it a few times before and that’s a top, top quality goal.”
Asked if he was protecting Rashford with Sunday’s trip to Tottenham in mind by taking him off in the 65th minute, he said: “It’s the same thing as before.
“He’s not recovered from it and hopefully it’s not got any worse from this because he lasted 70 against Brighton, 65 now, so hopefully he’s ready.
“I think he should be ready for Sunday and the goal is exceptional.”
United will face Roma or Ajax in the semi-finals barring a remarkable turnaround by Granada, whose manager Diego Martinez felt his side deserved more.
“I’m very proud of the team, annoyed with the result, which is a bad result but proud of the work of the team,” he said.
“We defended well and didn’t give them space to run. We got more comfortable as the game progressed.
“In the second half we deserved a goal. It was a shame not to have that clinical touch that would have given us the goal to give you the lift that you need.
“The second goal doesn’t reflect the match.”