NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom (AFP) – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer joined Matt Busby in the Manchester United record books early yesterday as his inspirational decision to bring on Romelu Lukaku as a substitute paid immediate dividends in a 2-0 victory against Newcastle.
The victory, secured after Lukaku scored with his first touch of the game in the 64th minute, clinched a fourth win in as many games for United’s interim manager.
And Solskjaer now joins United’s iconic former leader Busby as the only other manager in the club’s proud history to have started his career with four wins.
Lukaku pounced after Martin Dubravka had failed to hold onto Marcus Rashford’s ambitious 25-yard free-kick, the Newcastle keeper spilling the ball for the alert substitute to covert from close range.
The Belgian also had a role in United’s second, in the 80th minute, along with Alexis Sanchez, the former Arsenal striker who has been out for over a month and was brought on, along with Lukaku.
The two subs combined passes, as Newcastle pressed upfield in search of an equaliser, and Sanchez’s precise pass found Rashford in space, the young England striker having the poise to calmly roll the ball past Dubravka.
“It was a tough test,” said Solskjaer of Rashford’s performance.
“He gets kicked, and he gets tackled, he goes for headers, he wins, he challenges, he runs.
“He is going to be a top, top number nine, definitely but then we’ve got Rom (Lukaku), so sometimes he’ll play on the right, sometimes on the left, sometimes through the middle. He’ll get enough games.
“But I felt it was time to put Rom and Alexis on and, of course, it was a great shot by Marcus and Romelu does his job as a striker to be following in on the rebound. If you do that you’ll get five or six goals every season for free, really.”
After a miserable first half to the season under Solskjaer’s predecessor Jose Mourinho, the win simply adds to the growing adoration being shown by United supporters towards their former player.
United’s Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward, widely criticised for his part in the club’s woes since the retirement of Alex Ferguson and their decline from the summit of the English game, had at least spotted the wisdom in his timing of Mourinho’s dismissal earlier this month.
It presented the interim manager with three eminently winnable games against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth – victories which Solskjaer duly collected in some style.
But the visit to St James’s Park, at the end of a busy holiday period, was always going to be one that offered a far greater challenge to the “new-look” United and the opening half certainly served as a timely reminder of how much work Solskjaer still has to do if he is to elevate this season to anything above the instantly forgettable.
“I don’t want to (leave),” said Solskjaer when asked about his future beyond this season.
“It is such a great bunch of players, a fantastic atmosphere. But it is the next game, the next game and I am doing my job for as long as I am here.”
United will now move on to much tougher challenges, starting with the Premier League visit to Tottenham a week on Sunday.
Paul Pogba, involved in seven goals in the three games since Solskjaer took over, again looked a different player away from the stifling micro management of Mourinho.
Their victory could have been even more emphatic after Pogba raced clear in injury-time and rounded the keeper only to roll the ball into the side-netting.