Rashford relief but controversy at VAR and two saved penalties
A week that threatened to turn ugly for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ended with Manchester United fans serenading their manager and two players who had missed penalties on a chaotic afternoon at Carrow Road combining to roll back the years for a side who had seemingly forgotten how to attack.
It is probably too early to tell if the past seven days will signal a corner turned after United’s worst start to a season for 33 years. But, as their supporters toasted an arresting third goal and a first league away win for eight months, this felt like a notable moment all the same.
Sure, the days of Solskjaer scoring an injury-time winner against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final still feel a long way away and United will have a tough challenge when they visit Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.
Yet, after a positive draw against the Premier League leaders Liverpool last weekend and Thursday’s Europa League win away to Partizan Belgrade, this was another step in the right direction as Solskjaer’s players start to resemble something approaching what you expect from a
United side going forward.
This could have been a day when all the talk was about the two penalties United missed as their spot-kick woe continued, and yet another unfathomable decision from the video assistant referee that invited widespread bemusement. But, by the end, it was all about United attacking with the sort of conviction and fluency not seen since the 4-0 opening-day victory over Chelsea.
Marcus Rashford missed the first penalty, after one of those VAR decisions that left you wondering what they are smoking down at Stockley Park, and Anthony Martial the second, with the outstanding Tim Krul saving both.
But United’s forward pairing recovered superbly to shoot down Norwich in impressive fashion while the sprightly Fred and Scott Mctominay, scorer of United’s first, dominated the midfield. Solskjaer has not been afraid to talk up Martial and if this is the sort of influence United can expect him to wield now he is back after an eightweek injury lay-off, then they should keep climbing the table.
United’s crowning glory was the third goal. Ashley Young won possession from just inside Norwich’s half and from there Rashford and Martial exchanged six touches during a quick, incisive, delightful dash towards goal that bamboozled
Norwich and culminated in Rashford delivering the ball into Martial’s path with a gorgeous backheel and the Frenchman coolly dinking the ball over the advancing Krul.
Solskjaer was asked if it reminded him of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole in their pomp. “Nah, Solskjaer and Sheringham,” he replied, laughing. “It was great to see them link up. We’ve missed Anthony these last two months and it’s great to have him back. Him and Marcus are just going to improve and grow.
“Anthony is vital for us, he’s a top striker and to have him back, fit, smiling and enjoying his football is a big thing for us.”
Mctominay had opened the scoring with a smart finish after Todd Cantwell had failed to clear Andreas Pereira’s cross moments after Krul had kept out Martial’s header with a reflex save. Then came the game’s most controversial moment - and the first penalty miss.
When Martial released Daniel James through the middle, the United winger, if anything, appeared the one more guilty of an infringement as he leaned sharply into Norwich defender Ben Godfrey. Still, it was little more than a coming together of two
opponents and referee Stuart Attwell instantly signalled no penalty. And yet, after two minutes of deliberation, David Coote, the VAR, said otherwise and, with some sense of justice, Rashford’s weak spot-kick was saved. Like Daniel Farke, his Norwich counterpart, Solskjaer was baffled by the decision. “I don’t think it’s a penalty,” the United manager said. “If it takes two minutes [to decide] it’s not clear and obvious,’’ he said.
Solskjaer also felt both penalties should have been retaken with Krul stepping off his line, an infringement he feels is now going unpunished after an initial attempt to clamp down on such situations at the start of the season.
Rashford could have slumped at that point. Instead, he dusted himself off and minutes later had claimed United’s second, cushioning a lovely, speared crossfield pass from the lively James and finishing with aplomb past Krul.
Still, United cannot keep shooting themselves in the foot from the spot and there was more trouble to come after Martial was also thwarted by Krul after Fred’s shot hit Cantwell’s outstretched arm and the VAR awarded another penalty, this time correctly. Make that four misses from six penalties awarded in the league now for United this season.
Although Onel Hernandez pulled a goal back for Norwich late on to deny United a clean sheet, this was much more like the United of old.
Solskjaer just has to hope it is the start of something.
2000 Scott Mctominay’s opener was Manchester United’s 2,000th goal in the Premier League
Cool finish: Anthony Martial scores United’s third to wrap up victory