Manchester United beat Wolves to reach FA Cup fourth round – but evening soured by Marcus Rashford injury

Manchester United 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers: Juan Mata’s goal sent the home side through but Rashford’s late injury was their main concern at the end of the night

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Wednesday 15 January 2020 22:51 GMT
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Manchester United earned safe passage to the FA Cup fourth round, having finally found a way past Wolverhampton Wanderers after 157 goalless minutes, but the fitness of Marcus Rashford was their main concern at the end of the night.

With a trip to Anfield coming on Sunday, the plan was to rest Rashford for this third round replay. United’s stand-out player of the season to date was pictured carrying an ultrasound device designed to heal small bone fractures this week and has struggled with back issues throughout his career.

The last thing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted was to aggravate any minor injury but United’s top scorer lasted just 15 minutes after being introduced as a second-half substitute, putting his involvement against Liverpool this weekend in serious doubt.

Rashford’s introduction had helped break the deadlock. He intelligently let the ball run in a flowing United counter-attack which ended with Juan Mata settling this tie. United will now play either Tranmere Rovers or Watford away at the end of this month.

But a Wembley final in this competition feels a long way away at the moment. The Premier League and achieving a top-four finish is the priority and, though Jurgen Klopp's league leaders look imperious, United are still the only team to take points from them this season.

Solskjaer is hopeful of frustrating the league leaders once more on Sunday but Rashford – scorer in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford earlier this season – is a key part of his counter-attacking game plan. If he is unavailable, United’s chances of a result appear bleak.

Their hopes of reaching the fourth round did not look much better early on, when Nuno Espirito Santo’s visitors had the best of the opening stages. Pedro Neto was particularly unfortunate to see an early goal ruled out.

Some abominable United defending was reprieved by the abomination that is the new handball law. Deep inside his own half and for no apparent reason, Fred attempted to play the ball ten yards by smashing it into Nemanja Matic’s shins.

The rebound created a 50-50 inside United’s penalty area between Raul Jimenez and Harry Maguire. Jimenez won the challenge but as the ball had bounced off his hand in the process, meaning Neto’s composed finish counted for nothing.

United could count themselves lucky while Wolves cursed their misfortune. No side has suffered more VAR overturns than Wolves in the Premier League this season, meaning it was no surprise to hear claims that “it’s not football anymore” from the travelling support.

It was the only notable incident of a first half that began with promise and quickly faded. It was clear from the drab three-quarters of an hour which followed that this replay was an inconvenience for both sides. Neither really wanted to be here.

By the hour mark, things had to change. Solskjaer reluctantly sent for Rashford, who replaced Mason Greenwood. It was a decision he would come to regret, even admitting that it had "backfired", but it did at least help bring about the breakthrough.

The move began near United’s own byline with Maguire neatly working his way out of a tight space. Rashford let the centre-half’s lofted pass run for Martial, who did well to out-muscle and turn Conor Coady and slip a ball in behind. Mata was marginally onside.

Now going on 32-years-old, the Spaniard has never been the quickest over medium distances but stayed ahead of Wolves’ retreating defence long enough to dink the ball over Ruddy. It was a well-taken goal to cap another influential performance.

But not long after, Rashford was on the turf in a heap after a forceful challenge by Matt Doherty. Clutching his back, he made it clear he could not continue and the substitute was substituted. His introduction had helped United progress, but at what cost?

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