Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brings the goals and fun back to Manchester United
Dream start as caretaker manager as United canter to 5-1 win at Cardiff City
The songs started an hour before kick-off outside the away end at Cardiff City.
“Ole, Ole, Ole,” chorused the early arrivals among the 3,000 Manchester United supporters as they turned off Sloper Road by the old Ninian Park into Clos Parc Morgannwg towards the away end.
“Who put the ball in the Germans’ net?” they hollered, dark shapes in the fading light on the second shortest day of the year. “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.”
There was an exuberance seldom seen at United games this season and the Norwegian had yet to manage a game.
Their team are well off the pace in the Premier League, but, against Cardiff, United played with a much higher tempo and confidence.
That freedom and fine goals ensured fans were happy in the haze of a new Norwegian caretaker manager and the songs got louder and louder after the fans got the start they wanted.
United took the lead after two minutes, Marcus Rashford’s free-kick driven through the wall, Nemanja Matic moving to the side to create a space for Rashford to exploit. United’s No 10 slid on his knees in celebration.
“Rash has got a great strike in him,” smiled Solskjaer. “He’s got that swerve. That was a great way to start.”
Rashford appeared in more games for Jose Mourinho than any other player, but, like others, his relationship with the Portuguese had deteriorated as he grew frustrated being deployed out of position.
United were bright, zipping into the game and recovering the ball quickly when they lost it. Several of the players have seen their reputations battered as the team slid under Mourinho. They need to get them back.
United were two up after 29 minutes when Ander Herrera’s shot from 25 yards spun off the back of former Manchester City defender Greg Cunningham and past Neil Etheridge in the Cardiff goal.
On the touchline, Solskjaer opened his legs and bent his knees like he’d scored his 127th goal for the club he served so well.
He did not get to do that often during a pained nine-month spell as Cardiff boss in 2014. His opposite number Neil Warnock shook his head.
It was not all perfect for United though. Rashford was at fault for using his arm to concede a 36th-minute penalty. Victor Camarasa hit a wonderful shot to the right of David de Gea.
United have conceded more goals at this stage of the season than at any time for 56 years and it was not hard to see why in that moment.United quickly struck back, however, ripping through the Cardiff defence. Anthony Martial stayed composed to make it three.
Solskjaer’s side dominated and were four up after 56 minutes, Jesse Lingard winning a penalty after a superb defence splitting ball from Matic. Lingard swept the ball to Etheridge’s left and a ‘20legend’ flag was raised as the players piled towards fans.
“The penalty killed us,” said Warnock. “United will get far sterner tests than us, but if you would have told us we’d be out of the bottom three by Christmas I would have bitten your hand off.”
United were rampant against poor opponents and the performance was a contrast on the last time they were in Cardiff.
In 2014 United drew 2-2 there. David Moyes, the manager at the time who was struggling with replacing Sir Alex Ferguson, said he was satisfied with the result – a comment which alarmed fans who didn’t expect he champions to be happy with a draw against a side about to be relegated.
The mood was buoyant when Lingard doubled his own tally for the season – and got that elusive fifth, the first time since the Ferguson era United had scored that many since the Ferguson era.
“Jingle bells, jingle all the way,” sang the red hoards standing among many Norway flags as they contemplated the long journey home. “Oh what fun it is to see United win away.” Fun sorely missing this season.
“You are my Solskjaer, my only Solskjaer, you make me happy when skies are grey,” they concluded.
“We’re eight points behind the top four but we’ve caught teams up before at this club,” said the manager, who praised the quality and attitude of his players. “Man United always play well in the second half of the season.”
The skies have been grey, but on Saturday the sun broke through.
Updated: December 23, 2018 07:50 AM