Manchester United avoided an embarrassing defeat to Omonia Nicosia courtesy of a second-half comeback to win 3-2 in the Europa League after being behind at the break.
Omonia Nicosia – fourth in the Cypriot league and managed by former Celtic boss Neil Lennon – went in 1-0 to the good at half-time after a quick break following a
Manchester United corner ended with Karim Ansarifard scoring.
Erik ten Hag, who picked a strong side including Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro, reacted by bringing on Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw and it was Rashford that started the comeback with a cool finish before fellow substitute Anthony Martial struck the visitors in front.
Rashford made it 3-1 to cap an impressive individual showing before Nikolas Panayiotou meant United had to stay switched on in the closing stages after narrowing the deficit.
Ronaldo looked desperate to impress but his 700th career goal evaded him on a frustrating night, culminating in a jaw-dropping miss that hit the post despite the goal gaping from six yards out.
Following a 1-0 defeat by Real Sociedad in their opening game, United are now sitting pretty in Group E after back-to-back wins.
How super-sub Rashford ran Omonia ragged…
Despite bossing the opening 30 minutes, United’s wastefulness in front of goal held them back. Bruno Fernandes looped a finish off the crossbar whilst the impressive Omonia Nicosia goalkeeper Fabiano denied Ronaldo with a smart low save.
United allowed their opponents, who finished seventh in the league but qualified for Europe through winning the Cypriot Cup for the first time in a decade, to grow into the game.
And, unbelievably, the minnows scored with their first shot on goal.
Jadon Sancho put Tyrell Malacia into trouble following a United corner and a slip from the full-back allowed the hosts to break forward. With Sancho failing to run back, Omonia had a three-on-one situation and Bruno slipped the ball into Ansarifard, who took a touch before smashing the ball into the top corner of David de Gea’s net.
Sancho and Malacia paid for their mistakes at the break and it was a game-changing decision from Ten Hag as Rashford exploded into life from the bench.
He took just eight minutes to draw United level. Fernandes swept a superb 50-yard ball into his path and the England international steadied himself before curling an intelligent finish into the far corner to start the comeback.
Rashford then produced a classy flick to find fellow substitute Martial in space. The Frenchman showed his level of confidence by getting his shot away quickly and found the bottom corner.
A potential crisis looked to be averted 10 minutes from time when a frustrated Ronaldo, who struck a post from six yards with the goal gaping, gave up trying to score from every angle and played a clever ball across the goal for Rashford to tap home. Omonia rallied again with Panayiotou firing into the top corner to set up a dramatic final few minutes but United stayed strong.
Rashford re-emerging as big-game player
Sky Sports’ Joe Shread:
After a hugely disappointing 2021/22 season that was hampered by poor form and a shoulder injury, Rashford appears to be enjoying a bounce-back campaign under Ten Hag.
In just eight matches under the Dutchman, the 24-year-old has already bettered his assists tally from last season and has matched his goals total.
The two strikes he produced away to Omonia were the fourth and fifth he has notched this season, while his brilliant flicked assist for Martial’s goal was his third of what is shaping up to be a highly productive campaign.
While Rashford’s numbers are impressive, it’s when and where he’s converting his chances that catches the eye.
The academy graduate’s five goals have been spread across just three matches and have been responsible for winning Man Utd six extra points in those games.
Rashford’s first of the season came in the 2-1 win over Liverpool – Ten Hag’s first victory – while the second two helped Man Utd to a 3-1 triumph over another big-six rival in Arsenal.
Then, in Cyprus, Rashford stepped off the bench at half-time with his side staring down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat to lead them to a hard-fought victory that kept them within touching distance of top spot in Europa League Group E.
The re-emergence of Rashford as a big-game player is a welcome boost for Man Utd and Ten Hag, and may be coming at just the right time for the forward as he hunts a recall to an England squad crying out for a spark ahead of this winter’s World Cup.
Ten Haag: Subs made impact
Erik ten Haag speaking to BT Sport:
“I think we started well, couple of chances and then an unnecessary mistake. It cannot happen – you have to take responsibility there. Then a really bad 10 minutes and we have to learn from that.
“We were too static and you have to make opposite movements to get behind. That’s why we also made two subs and they had an impact.
“I think the subs really had an impact today and that is really good to make the team stronger.
On Martial: “We have already seen in pre-season. It was big disappointment for this team and for me when he got injured. We missed him and that also had an effect on our performance.”
Lennon: United deserved to win, we rode our luck
Neil Lennon speaking to BT Sport:
“We rode our luck. It was a great game and we kept ourselves in the game, whether it be good goalkeeping or United missing good chances. To score two goals against them is probably more than I could have imagined.
“I don’t think, until we scored, we believed in ourselves really, but it gave us something to hold onto. The third goal killed us and on the balance of play United thoroughly deserved to win.
“The second goal, we were too open, and that was at a crucial point in the game. Bruno then misses a great chance to get us back in it. When you’re feeding off scraps you’ve got to make them count.
“There’s things we could do better but the gulf between the teams is huge. But we’ve made a game of it and to get two goals is fantastic.”
England watch: Big impacts from Rashford, Shaw
An assist and two goals in 45 minutes for Rashford. You can’t ask for much more.
Rashford is playing like a player determined to make the World Cup. His performance will have been hard for Gareth Southgate to ignore. His influence, skill and quality was the catalyst for Manchester United coming through what could have been a damaging and embarrassing night. Playing off the left, he went looking for the ball at every opportunity and after a blunt 18 months, he is now back to his confident best. His touches are positive and he has a desire to make something happen every time he drives into the final third.
Shaw put in an impressive 45 minutes, too, off the bench. Carrying on from where he left off for England, his desire to get forward and create would have impressed Ten Hag, who could reward him by bringing him back into the Premier League fold, something Southgate would approve of with Qatar just over six weeks away.
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