Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford says it would be “stupid” to think about winning the Premier League title at the moment despite his injury-time goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers moving the Red Devils up to second in the table.
Tuesday’s game seemed destined to be a draw when Rashford took possession on the edge of the area, near to the goal-line.
But after cutting inside the box, the England man let fly with a left-footed shot that deflected off Romain Saiss to leave Rui Patricio completely wrong-footed.
United are now two points behind leaders Liverpool having played the same number of games, which is as close as they have been to the top of the table at this stage of the season since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
“We can’t look too far ahead,” Rashford told Amazon Prime.
“We are a team that is still doing a lot of work on ourselves and to be looking at the table so early on in the season is a bit stupid of us.
“We have to take it one game at a time and if we can keep finding ways to win like this we will see where we are at the end of the season.”
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he is not willing to consider talk of a title challenge until after 30 games.
“There’s no title race after 15 games,” he said.
“You can lose the chance of being in the race in the first 10 games of course but play another 15 and get to 30 maybe, then we can start talking about it when we’ve at least played more than half the season.
“The belief is there – they think ‘we can win against anyone, anywhere’. This result is massive for the attitude.”
That the winner should come so late could have been predicted.
Since Wolves returned to the top flight in 2018, these sides have now met eight times in league and cup. There have been four draws and two wins each, none of which has been by more than a single goal.
United manager Solskjaer predicted a tight affair and so it proved as his defence was the equal of a Wolves attack that continues to struggle without Raul Jimenez, while the home side failed to inspire despite the return of Paul Pogba alongside Fernandes in midfield.
Unusually for him, Fernandes was wasteful when Mason Greenwood picked him out with a deep cross just before half-time.
Such opportunities tend to find the net at the Portuguese’s feet, but this one was turned away by Patricio.
Rashford and Anthony Martial wasted chances and although Edinson Cavani did have the ball in the net, the Uruguayan was correctly ruled offside.
There were appeals for a penalty for handball in the build-up, but VAR adjudged it was accidental by Wolves skipper Conor Coady.
Neto’s not bad
Although the night did not end well for Wolves, it was another good one for Wolves’ young forward Pedro Neto.
Manager Nuno Espirito Santo has been trying to play down expectations around the 20-year-old, who is only just starting to get exposed to senior football after a handful of appearances in his native Portugal for Braga and during a loan spell at Lazio.
Glenn Hoddle and Jamie Redknapp have both spoken highly of Neto in recent days, and while his diminutive stature was ill-suited to the centre-forward role he was handed, there was more evidence at Old Trafford of a potential star in the making.
Either through his own shot that tested De Gea or the inspired leave that created one for Ruben Neves, Neto shows he is always thinking.
The reverse pass that found Rayan Ait-Nouri in a packed penalty area was inspired even if it brought no reward.
Neto is getting used to the physical side of the game too – he was accidently caught in the face by Nemanja Matic, which brought a shout of pain as the game continued without him.
He might have done better when he raced clear just before half-time, only to find Harry Maguire in his way as he tried to step inside to create more room for a shot, but the teenager continued to find pockets of space after the break before he was eventually replaced.
To underline the evolution of this Wolves team, 18-year-old former Liverpool defender Ki-Jana Hoever made his first Premier League start, as did 20-year-old Vitinha – a pass that nut-megged Pogba was the highlight of his 54-minute appearance.
Not that it will be much consolation after such a disappointing end to the evening for Wolves.
“This is football and a learning process,” Nuno said.
“It’s cruel in the moment but you can’t stay feeling sorry – you have to move forward. We created chances, sometimes we should finish more.”
Latest United winner since 2009 – the stats
- Since losing at home to Arsenal at the start of November, Manchester United have won seven of their past nine Premier League games.
- Wolves have now conceded in each of their past nine league games; their joint-longest run without a clean sheet in the competition under Nuno Espirito Santo (the other was the nine games between December 2019 and January 2020).
- Marcus Rashford’s goal for Manchester United was his first at Old Trafford in the Premier League in 845 minutes of play, since netting in July versus Southampton.
- At 92 minutes and 51 seconds, Rashford’s strike was their latest winning goal in a Premier League game at Old Trafford since September 2009, when Michael Owen scored at 95:27 against Manchester City.
- Since his Premier League debut in February, Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in more goals in the competition than any other player with 32 – 18 goals, 14 assists).
- Wolves’ starting XI in this game had an average age of 25 years and 109 days – their youngest in a Premier League game since April 2012 (25 years 80 days v Sunderland).
- Manchester United made six changes to their starting XI; their most in the Premier League since April 2019, when they had six changes for a game also against Wolves.
Manchester United conclude their festive programme against another Midlands side, Aston Villa, on Friday, 1 January (20:00GMT). Wolves are next in action at Brighton on Saturday, 2 January (17:30GMT).