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Mkhitaryan scores, gets hurt as Man United beats Spurs 1-0

Associated Press logo Associated Press 11-12-2016 By STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring the first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson) © The Associated Press Manchester United's Henrikh Mkhitaryan celebrates scoring the first goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

MANCHESTER, England — Henrikh Mkhitaryan underlined his growing importance to Manchester United by scoring in a 1-0 win over Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday, sealing the team's most important victory under Jose Mourinho.

Mkhitaryan's match ended prematurely when he was carried off on a stretcher in the 85th with a left ankle injury, but by then he'd done the damage with his 29th-minute goal at Old Trafford.

The Armenia midfielder raced onto Ander Herrera's through-ball and drove home a rising shot for his first Premier League goal.

Mourinho said Mkhitaryan was man of the match and that his injury wasn't serious, likely keeping him out for about two weeks.

For a change, United managed to close out the game comfortably to move three points behind Spurs and six behind Manchester City, which occupies the fourth and final Champions League qualification berth after 15 games.

"To be honest, after so many matches playing well but not winning, we need more the points than the performance," Mourinho said, "but I knew against Tottenham it is difficult to get the result without playing well. We played very well."

Mkhitaryan has been slowly integrated into United's first team since his move from Borussia Dortmund last summer, with Mourinho keen to ease the Armenian into the demands of English soccer.

Now he is settled, Mkhitaryan is looking the part. And the pace and quick thinking he showed for his goal was something United has been lacking.

As soon as Herrera pounced on a wayward pass from Harry Kane in the center of the field, Mkhitaryan was off, running in behind Spurs center back Jan Vertonghen with left back Danny Rose stranded upfield. Herrera's pass was perfect and Mkhitaryan took it on before unleashing a fierce shot that flew past Hugo Lloris.

In his last four games, Mkhitaryan has scored two goals and set up two others. His injury will set him back once again, however.

Meanwhile, the Premier League has now seen players from 96 different nationalities score goals since its inception in 1992.

It was a crucial win for United and Mourinho, whose record against the so-called heavyweights of the Premier League has been poor since arriving at Old Trafford. United has already lost to City and Chelsea this season, and drawn against Arsenal and Liverpool.

United had the better of the chances in both halves, with Paul Pogba particularly lively in crashing a free kick against the crossbar and having two shots well saved by Lloris.

Christian Eriksen was Tottenham's best player and from one of his free kicks, an unmarked Victor Wanyama misdirected a header from the edge of the six-yard box in the 55th.

Spurs didn't have a more clear-cut opening for the rest of the match.

"It was an even game, very competitive," Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino said. "I think a little bit disappointed but not disappointed with our performance. We compete here (in a) difficult game."

There were some boos from United fans toward Marouane Fellaini as the midfielder warmed up late in the second half, with Mourinho contemplating a substitution.

Mourinho said he heard the jeers and guessed it was a reaction to Fellaini's clumsy foul against Everton last week, soon after coming on as a substitute, that conceded a penalty and subsequently a late equalizing goal.

"He is a player and a person I like and the person is more important," Mourinho said. "He will always have my protection."

Fellaini came on for the last minute of the match.

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