Marcus Rashford gave the perfect response to his benching for disciplinary reasons as the Manchester United forward’s late strike clinched a 1-0 win at Wolves on Saturday.
United manager Erik ten Hag sprang a pre-match surprise when he revealed Rashford had been dropped because of an “internal disciplinary” issue.
The 25-year-old had been in excellent form for Ten Hag’s side this season and also scored three goals for England at the World Cup, so United fans were startled to learn of his demotion.
Ten Hag did not give any further details when pressed on the decision to axe Rashford during his pre-match interview with BT Sport, adding it was “our rules”.
But Rashford’s exile only lasted until half-time when he was sent on by Ten Hag in a move that proved the catalyst for United to seal their fifth successive win in all competitions.
Rashford looked determined to prove Ten Hag was wrong to drop him as he rampaged through the Wolves defence to score his 11th goal in all competitions this season and his third in three appearances since the World Cup.
United climbed into fourth place in the Premer League, two points above Tottenham who have a game in hand, as they bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Julen Lopetegui’s Wolves remain in the relegation zone after the Spaniard’s first defeat in three games since replacing the sacked Bruno Lage.
Just before kick-off there was a poignant minute’s applause in tribute to Brazilian legend Pele, who died on Thursday aged 82.
United’s Brazil winger Antony lifted his shirt to show a personal message to Pele.
After the emotion of the Pele tributes and the Rashford controversy, United went close to an early opener when Casemiro glanced a header that was deflected just over.
Having come in to replace Rashford, Alejandro Garnacho should have put United ahead in the 16th minute when he pounced on Nelson Semedo’s woeful backpass.
Garnacho has earned rave reviews for his impressive form this season, but the 18-year-old Argentine showed a lack of composure to shoot straight at Jose Sa.
A frustrating first half for United concluded in fitting fashion when Anthony Martial failed to convert Garnacho’s cross before his team-mate Antony launched into a close-range header that forced a scrambled save from Sa.
Rashford was introduced for Garnacho at the start of the second half and made an immediate impact, setting up Bruno Fernandes for a blocked shot that was grabbed by Sa before Antony could apply the finishing touch.
In a rare Wolves threat, Ruben Neves’ 25-yard free-kick curled over the United wall and forced a fine save from De Gea.
But United finally made the breakthrough in the 76th minute as Rashford responded to Ten Hag’s discipline in resounding style.
Taking possession wide on the left flank, Rashford played a one-two with Fernandes and showed his desire by holding off the Wolves defence before drilling a low shot past Sa from six yards.
Ten Hag’s fist-pumping celebration suggested Rashford was no longer persona non grata.
Rashford thought he had scored again moments later, but this time his close-range finish was disallowed for a clear handball.
An eventful afternoon for Rashford also featured a yellow card for kicking the ball away to waste time in the closing minutes.
That was one indiscretion Ten Hag might be willing to overlook after his match-winning contribution.
In a dramatic denouement, Wolves striker Raul Jimenez almost stole Rashford’s thunder with a powerful stoppage-time header, but De Gea parried to preserve the points.
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