Ole Gunnar SolskjÃ¦r was upbeat despite the youngest European side in Manchester Unitedâs history falling to defeat in Kazakhstan. The 6,000-mile round trip to face Astana is the farthest the club have 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 Unitedâs young side started the Europa League tie brightly, with their stand-in captain Jesse Lingard opening the scoring with a fizzing low finish.
But Astana, already eliminated and previously pointless, grew into the Group L encounter, with Dmitri Shomkoâs strike and an own goal from United debutant DiâShon Bernard sealing a surprise 2-1 win.
âDefinitely there are positives,â SolskjÃ¦r said. âOf course weâre 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, weâre disappointed with that 10-minute spell, you could feel pressure was coming. We couldnât get on the ball as we did.
âBut 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 menâs football and today they got the taste of it, some of them.
âBut 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 â itâs nice to see midfielders dominating the game.
âDiâShon 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.â
Debutants Levitt, Laird and Bernard were part of an outfield line-up with an average age of 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 â the youngest side United have fielded in a major European competition.
DâMani Bughail-Mellor, Largie Ramazani and Ethan Galbraith made their first appearances as second-half substitutes, while SolskjÃ¦r wants Bernard to remember the positives after his own goal. âHe was disappointed, of course,â he said. âHeâll 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.
âHe had some last-ditch clearances. I thought he did excellent and heâs so composed on the ball as well. Sometimes strikers miss chances and sometimes defenders score an own goal. Thatâs partly down to luck and bad luck.â
SolskjÃ¦r 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: âYeah, of course, but he said the same in the dressing room. He takes the responsibility. But no forward or striker should ever worry about missing chances. Thatâs just part of growing up. I think I did once as well.â
While SolskjÃ¦r told Bernard and Chong to keep their chin up, he believes Lingard should be proud of his display after a difficult few months. âI thought he was excellent today,â he said. âJesse led by example. Loads of energy, drive, very good goal. Heâs been very good in the whole trip with the young boys because he is 27. Jesse is an old, experienced boy and very pleased with his performance as well on the pitch. Itâs good to get Jesse back.â
Meanwhile, Astana were delighted to get their first points on the board against such a huge side. Defender Antonio Rukavina said: âIt is always tough to play against a big team like Manchester United. But we played one fighting game and won our first three points this year in the Europa League. Itâs nice to be part of such a big win.â