Manchester United are through to the last 16 of the English Football League Cup with a 3-1 victory over Northampton Town. Jose Mourinho’s men avoided the ignominy of suffering four straight defeats – this spell ended at three losses.
But it was far from all smooth sailing for Manchester as they went into the break level at 1-1. A heavily changed side from the Premier League made a bright start. Wayne Rooney spurned an early chance in front of goal having returned to his central striker role of years past. A bizarre Northampton pass-back from beyond the half way line gifted Michael Carrick’s 17th minute strike from just outside the box as United then appeared to head into cruise control. It was the midfielder’s first goal for 18 months.
But Carrick’s opener was cancelled out by a penalty just before half time. A sluggish United appeared to drift and revert to the form of their previous three games late in the first half. With sideways movement becoming the order of the day, their threat gradually lessened throughout the 45. This gifted Northampton an opportunity back into the match, and they gradually began to make the most it.
A poor attempt at a pass by Timothy Fosu-Mensah to Morgan Schneiderlin left the ball bobbling in awkward area inside their own box. Daley Blind then stuck out a leg to bring down Sam Hoskins for a clear penalty 41 minutes in, and Alex Revell made no mistake from the spot. 1-1 and Man U fans were nervous once again.
With the scores still locked and just over half an hour to play, Mourinho had no option but to bring on both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford. Ander Herrera struck the bar from 25 yards shortly after, and Rashford then produced a clever pass to give Herrera another opportunity from the same range. This time the Spaniard made no mistake, his thumping strike heading into the lower left of the net.
Rashford’s speed of body and speed of ball movement appeared to lift United’s tempo and hopes. At 2-1 up there suddenly appeared only one winner, and a horrible attempted clearance by Northampton goalkeeper Adam Smith gifted Rashford and the Reds the winner. Attempting to wildly swipe the ball away with a leg on the edge of his penalty area, Smith fresh aired and managed only to land on his backside. The closing-in Rashford was only too willing to take up an offer to walk the ball into the net for 3-1.
Marcus Rashford again proved the difference and clearly Jose Mourinho simply must make room for him on the weekend. Even if that’s at the expense of Wayne Rooney. Rooney had his chance to stake a claim as striker but blew it. Surely now it’s Rashford on the left with Ibrahimovic up front, and Rooney to the bench.