• Champions League

Smalling thrilled with United return

ESPN staff
November 8, 2012
Chris Smalling has handed Sir Alex Ferguson a boost after returning to action against Braga © PA Photos

Chris Smalling savoured his return to first-team football in Manchester United's 3-1 win over Braga after six months of frustration on the sidelines.

Smalling, 22, appeared for the first time since May as United clinched qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League with two games to spare.

The England international missed Euro 2012 with a groin injury and then broke a metatarsal in July, ruling him out of the start of the season.

He said: "It's been so long and it's been frustrating watching from the sidelines. But it's good to be able to come in and come back with a win as well so I'm feeling happy."

However, his comeback looked to be an unhappy affair when Braga took the lead through Alan's penalty and then the lights went out at the Estadio AXA.

But Smalling said that the 15-minute delay, enabling Sir Alex Ferguson to give a further team talk while power was restored, benefited United.

"Yes, I think it did in a way," he added. "Especially after their goal. We knew we really had to pick ourselves up. We had a lot of the ball but we weren't really getting anywhere. So yes, it really helped us."

Substitute Robin van Persie equalised for United and Smalling added: "He is a person who only needs one chance. That was crucial and he's proved that all season so far, and long may it continue."

Then Wayne Rooney, who had missed a penalty four days earlier against Arsenal, converted from 12 yards to put United ahead.

"He is one of those who wants to put himself back in the firing line," Smalling said. "I think he showed he's got the courage. You never have to doubt him really from the penalty spot."

Javier Hernandez completed the comeback with an injury-time third meaning United, who failed to progress from their Champions League group 12 months ago, are now mathematically certain to top this season's pool.

Smalling said: "It's a massive improvement on last year. We knew that wasn't good enough."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.