Phelan relieved as United avoid slip-ups
Manchester United assistant boss Mike Phelan feels the team reaching the last 16 of the Champions League as Group H winners with two games to spare has provided just the response Red Devils supporters were looking for following last season's disappointing performance in the competition.
United failed to make it out of their group in 2011-12, but they sealed top spot and a place in the knockout phase on Wednesday after only four matches as they came from behind to beat Braga 3-1 at the Estadio AXA, maintaining their 100% record.
Reflecting on United's surge into the next round, Phelan said: "Our intention this year was to get into [the knockout phase] very quickly. We were disappointing last year - the players and staff knew that, and I think the supporters wanted a reaction to that."
Now with 12 points, United can go into their final two group fixtures knowing they cannot be caught by Cluj or Galatasaray, both on four points, or Braga, who have three.
As they have on several occasions this season - including two of their previous three Group H games - United conceded the opening goal, which came four minutes into the second half. Custodio collided with Jonny Evans in the box and Alan, scorer of Braga's two goals when they went 2-0 up at Old Trafford last month before eventually being beaten 3-2, smashed home the resulting penalty.
But with only ten minutes remaining Van Persie expertly guided the ball from outside the box over stranded goalkeeper Beto to equalise, before a penalty from Wayne Rooney - who had missed one against Arsenal - and a late Javier Hernandez effort wrapped up United's win.
Phelan admitted the way things had turned out had been surprising and suggested the power cut hold-up had been to United's advantage, saying: "Possibly with the way the evening panned out - with the lights going out and the heavy rain, and then us having to make a quick substitution, bringing Rio Ferdinand on - that changed things for us, with the tempo of our game going up."
The Portuguese side's coach Jose Peseiro felt the final scoreline had been harsh on his team and praised them for their efforts.
"I didn't see a clear opportunity for Manchester United until 80 minutes," Peseiro said. "I think they played well after the lights went off and we made some mistakes, which will happen against Manchester United."
He added: "But in this game I think my team was fantastic - better than at Old Trafford. My team did not deserve this result, in my opinion."