By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford ended in defeat as Marcus Rashford scored twice for Manchester United in a deserved 2-1 Premier League victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
Mourinho was sacked as United manager almost a year ago and this was his first defeat in four games since taking over from Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs last month.
After their worst start to a season since 1988, United fans were justified in viewing Mourinho’s return with apprehension.
But a hugely encouraging night for United ended with the Stretford End roaring their approval of his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after an impressive performance by his team lifted them to sixth in the table.
Rashford put United ahead in the seventh minute but a piece of technical brilliance from Dele Alli brought Spurs level, only for a 49th-minute Rashford penalty to secure the three points for the hosts.
The England striker was at his very best, strutting around the frontline and terrifying the Spurs defence but Solskjaer will also be delighted with a hugely improved performance from oft-criticised Brazilian midfielder Fred.
The opener was scored when Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez came off second best in a tussle with Jesse Lingard and the ball fell to Rashford, who confidently unleashed a low drive which rattled in off the post.
Rashford went close again with an 18th-minute free kick which curled past Paulo Gazzaniga’s right-hand post.
Argentine keeper Gazzaniga was soon in action again to keep out a low shot from Greenwood – after Daniel James again caused problems for Jan Vertonghen.
Rashford was playing with real swagger and he went close to a second in the 25th minute with a perfectly struck, dipping drive which Gazzaniga brilliantly tipped on to the bar.
With Scott McTominay a powerful presence, United were dominating midfield and continued to threaten the Spurs goal, Rashford floating a shot just wide and Lingard going close.
But a moment of brilliance at the other end brought Tottenham level six minutes before the break.
Serge Aurier’s shot was saved by the legs of David De Gea, the ball looped high in the air and Alli produced a remarkable piece of skill to bring the ball down and twist past Fred and Ashley Young before finishing with aplomb.
After all their pressure it was tough on United to go in at the interval without a lead but they were soon to restore their advantage.
Cutting in from the left, Rashford jinked past Aurier, burst into the box and was tripped by Moussa Sissoko, earning a penalty which he took and, from a short run-up, slotted home.
Gazzaniga saved Spurs again with a fine diving stop from James and when Mourinho introduced Christian Eriksen to the midfield Spurs threatened more, but there was real grit about United.
Alli tested De Gea with a low shot in stoppage time but the night belonged to Rashford and a young United side who got the perfect boost before Saturday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium for the Manchester derby.
“This is the hardest we’ve had to work to get a result,” Rashford said.
“The position we’re in now, we want these games. We want to show people we can play against top teams.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans,; Editing by Ian Chadband and Ed Osmond)