Manchester United edges Shakhtar to stop the bleeding, finish atop Champions League Group A

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When is a technically “meaningless” game something far less than meaningless? When mighty Manchester United is attempting to deliver itself from the unthinkable: losing three in a row at home.

To the rescue has come a less likely figure in Phil Jones, who has finally turned the valve, releasing the enormous pressure that was continuing to build around an atypically wandering season at Manchester United. His 67th minute goal was the difference as Manchester United rediscovered something to smile about, rolling out a ? win Tuesday over Shakhtar Donetsk in Champions League.

So United finish first in its group, a big benefit to a club that now gets to dodge the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona and perhaps some other biggies in the next round of tournament play, the first knockout round. But there was surely more afoot at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

This game had big impact around the storied club far beyond its effect on the lucrative competition. In fact, there was almost zero potential influence on the Champions League for David Moyes’ staggering lot. But having lost twice in the past week at Old Trafford, United and Moyes were craving something positive, and most desperate to dodge a third loss at home in a matter of days.

source:  Still, Shakhtar was the more desperate of the two in terms of Champions League, and easily so. It showed early as the Ukrainians managed to turn up repeatedly with something dangerous.

Fred, Luiz Adriano and Alex Teixeira – Shakhtar has quite a collection of talented, young Brazilians – zipped comfortably around a wobbly United back line, creating several good chances. One moment told the story of the first half: Aging center back Rio Ferdinand was stripped of the ball, then provided futile chase as a quick sequence ended with Fred flubbing what should have been 1-0 lead for the visitors.

Playing through Shinji Kagawa – stationed centrally for United in his favored, but rarely seen role – Manchester United managed to create a bit here and there before the break. The best came in the 37th minute when Ashley Young broke in and had every opportunity to chip over a goalkeeper ranging out of position. Rather, he pushed his looping little volley wide past the far post.

A few minutes later, Kagawa arranged beautifully for Wayne Rooney, but the England international couldn’t manage to uncork from 15 yards.

Jones finally broke through when he confidently cleaned up a corner kick scramble with a technical volley from about 15 yards.

Shakhtar applied pressure sporadically, but the output from Moyes’ men was greatly improved after those first 30 minutes, and the lift around Old Trafford from Jones’ goal was somewhat palpable.

Shakhtar finished third in the group and will move into Europa League when the pair of continental tournaments resume in February.

Lineups

Shakhtar: Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Rakitskiy, Shevchuk, Fred, Stepanenko, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira, Taison, Luiz Adriano.

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Ferdinand, Evans, Buttner, Jones, Giggs, Young, Kagawa, Januzaj, Rooney.

WATCH: Knee slide celebration goes face plant for RSL’s Mulholland

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We’d ask Luke Mulholland to take a bow, but we’re unsure how that would turn out.

The Englishman celebrated his 16th Real Salt Lake goal with a knee slide turned face plant on Sunday, and it was immediately clear he shared in the laughter it caused at Rio Tinto and on screens around the world.

[ RECAP: RSL 2-0 Seattle ]

Mulholland helped RSL continued it’s improbable red-hot run into the playoff picture with his third goal of the season on Saturday night against Seattle with a run in front of a defender to punch home a cross.

On his way to the corner flag for a nice slide, the pitch decided to rebel against his knees and sent him face-first into the Earth.

WATCH LIVE: Brighton hosts Newcastle United

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Newcastle United looks to continue its rich vein of form when it visits some old friends at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Brighton manager Chris Hughton has led both clubs to Premier League promotion during his managerial career.

He’ll keep ex-Newcastle keeper Tim Krul on the bench in favor of Australian backstop Mathew Ryan.

As for Newcastle, the Magpies are unchanged from last week’s win over Stoke City.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, March; Gross; Hemed. Subs: Krul, Rosenior, Huenemeier, Schelotto, Izquierdo, Murphy, Brown.

Newcastle United: Elliot; Mbemba, Clark, Lascelles, Yedlin; Ritchie, Hayden, Merino, Atsu; Perez, JoseluSubs: Darlow, Gamez, Manquillo, Diame, Murphy, Shelvey, Gayle.

Steven Gerrard didn’t want any part of Coutinho in training

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Steven Gerrard has issued some fairly hilarious comments regarding former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho.

The Premier League legend admits there were days in training that the sight of the Brazilian wizard on the other side of the pitch made him lash out.

[ MORE: Palace fans must be patient ]

It seems Gerrard wanted nothing to do with marking Coutinho in small-sided games, and the idea of “Stevie G” spouting off in frustration when Brendan Rodgers posted Coutinho across from him is a wonderful mental picture.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He’s impossible to defend against,” Gerrard told BT Sport after Saturday’s game.

“I mean when I used to train against him, I’d hate it if I was on the opposite five-a-side team. I wouldn’t go near him. And sometimes I’d say to him: ‘Keep away from me! He can embarrass you [as a defender]. He can stand you up, he can both ways, he’s got such a low centre of gravity. He’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s two or three steps ahead of defenders. He’s so, so clever.”

Again, the vision of Gerrard throwing his hands up with a “Nope, not having this today” is amazing. Even if exaggerated, we love it. We picture that old meme with the office worked tossing papers through the air.

Patience with Hodgson required by Palace

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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 0-2 in his new gig and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly within touching distance.

The latest defeat is a 5-0 blowout at Manchester City, and the immediate road ahead is sobering: at Manchester United and home to Chelsea. Following a trip to Newcastle, who is in form, the Eagles have matches vs. West Ham, at Spurs, and versus Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Palace is 0-6 overall and the first team in the history of the Premier League to go goalless through its first six matches.

Palace fired Frank De Boer after four league matches and a summer in which the club failed to add much to its squad.

And Hodgson is feeling his way through the dark. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is the timing of Palace’s change.

From the BBC:

“I am learning about the team all the time and they are learning,” said Hodgson.

“Our focus has to be in May. By the latter part of the season the players must know what we are looking for. They should feel stronger by then.”

To be shooting for May has to be overwhelming for the Selhurst Park faithful but may indicate their most reasonable promise of life in the Premier League.

Palace fans cannot afford to get caught up in how Sam Allardyce saved them a year ago, because his turnaround coincided with the Eagles’ purchases of Luka MilivojevicMamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. An influx of talent does not save a season alone, but we’re fairly sure Alan Pardew would’ve relished the chance to work with two new backs and a stabilizing center midfielder.

Remember that Allardyce then retired, which says something given his willingness to bask in any light in which he can claim a modicum of credit.

So Hodgson, known for his relentless training methods, needs to be given his time. Palace will likely have at-most one point after the next two PL matches, and they may have not scored yet. History can be daunting, but supporters need to exhale and realize the road ahead is long.