The days since Manchester United last lost a football match tick up to 32 and though there will be few more feeble challenges than this, the sense that David Moyes is beginning to find stability gathers strength.
A third successive win was decorated by the match-winning performance of a beaming two-goal Javier Hernandez who, with 54 goals in 125 United games now, should not be feeling as uncertain about his future as the words attributed to him and the Tottenham rumours suggest. He has been a substitute in 75 of those games. That will often be his role now. But here was enough to tell Moyes that he warrants more than the one league start and one in Europe that this season has brought. All in all, the victory was a parable about the less appreciated talents
Wilfried Zaha’s place in the starting XI delivered him the chance to prove something to Moyes, who had been until now unconvinced by Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing. He could hardly have delivered more through an opening half in which he twice drove dangerously into the right-hand channel to supply Hernandez, who was bundled off the ball each time.
It was meteorological baptism for Zaha, too, and a foul Manchester night did not lend itself to anything terribly sublime after Moyes – reluctant to dip into the ranks of untested youth in the nine changes he made – sent his players out to work. But Zaha displayed strength, a willingness to work back, and self-confidence; rolling the ball under his studs, linking neatly with Phil Jones alongside him in midfield, and taking two touches as he coaxed the ball towards the area and into the feet of Hernandez after 12 minutes. His 77 minutes of football offered enough for him to feel that he might not be farmed out on loan in January after all, as Moyes has said he might.
Adnan Januzaj remained the star commodity, though. There was no substantial contact when Leroy Fer challenged him, as he sought to whip around the Norwich midfielder near the byline on 18 minutes. But there was enough to validate United’s penalty claims, allowing Hernandez to place the spot-kick to Mark Bunn’s right.
The significant aspect of the goal was Januzaj’s willingness to attack with his head up. He is always a threat. His run and shot, after he gathered the ball a few inches inside the half and took it to the penalty box as the game entered its last half-hour, and his collection of a ball from Jones to drive narrowly wide of Bunn’s right post were two of the stand-out moments, weak though the final efforts were.
Norwich, with bigger battles to fight at the wrong end of the Premier League, offered little beyond the occasional threat of Nathan Redmond. They began the second half a little more strongly, when Johan Elmander almost got a touch after Redmond eased past Rafael to cross. But the other encouraging moment, when Alexander Buttner was skinned by Redmond, saw Robert Snodgrass deliver his head into the back of Rafael’s. The Norwich man was carried off.
Defensive catastrophe sealed the tie. It was poor to have allowed Hernandez one free header to climb to Buttner’s excellent cross but dismal to give him a free leap at the rebound, after Bunn’s save. There was only marginally more vigour about Fer’s clearance after Rafael’s deft clipped cross created more danger. It fell to Jones, who thumped home. Fabio, another forgotten man, had been on the field for less than a minute when he chested down a 20-yard cross-field ball from substitute Wayne Rooney and rolled the ball in. Moyes looked deeply contented. Easy nights have been few and far between here, these last three months.
Man of the match Januzaj.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).