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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer embraces the mayhem as Manchester United clinch five-goal thriller against Southampton

Pereira scores first Premier League goal as Lukaku notches second successive brace to cancel out superb strikes from Valery and Ward-Prowse at Old Trafford

“Like the old days,” smiled Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His nostalgia project had more echoes of the past. If the free kick that bore certain similarities to David Beckham came from a Southampton player, in James Ward-Prowse, there was the comeback and the happy ending, the sense of both mayhem and inevitability about a Manchester United win. It had attacking football, with glorious goals, with relentless resolve: everything Solskjaer remembered.

“I have been part of it so many times myself,” he reflected. This time he wasn’t the one supplying the dramatic denouement but, in time-honoured fashion, he could savour it. For the first time under Solskjaer, United lost a lead; for the first, they won after trailing. Their reward is fourth place. A man indelibly associated with the Uefa Champions League may be returning to it, and not just against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. His record now stands at a remarkable 32 points from a possible 36.

“We did it the hard way,” reflected Solskjaer. United often did, though there were mitigating circumstances. If Jose Mourinho saw injuries as a reason to moan, Solskjaer has taken the view they offer opportunities for others. Andreas Pereira grasped his. “There is nothing better than seeing young players grab their chance,” Solskjaer said. The Brazil international began in a midfield missing four injured players, scored a spectacular first Premier League goal and contributed to United’s second. “A goal and an assist; it is a day to remember,” noted his manager.

Romelu Lukaku began in the absence of Anthony Martial and, after being denied by two early saves from Angus Gunn, registered a second successive brace. His winner came from 20 yards, nestling in the corner of the net. It was a fitting decider to a game of wonderful goals.

“One fantastic player decided this game with his unbelievable play,” said the beaten manager, Ralph Hasenhuttl. It is an indication of Lukaku’s talent that he could score twice with his right foot. It is a sign of his achievements that, at 25, he already has as many Premier League goals as Ian Wright. He could be profligate and prolific in the space of the same game. “He loves scoring goals and does extra shooting in training,” Solskjaer said.

In a match of symbolic scorers, youngsters who epitomised their managers’ visions opened accounts. Hasenhuttl exiled the Euro 2016 winner Cedric Soares to Inter Milan in a show of faith in the 20-year-old Yan Valery. Few score the first goal of their career at Old Trafford; still fewer in such style. “A marvellous goal,” added Hasenhuttl. A revelation at right-back unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards.

But so, when United were behind, did Pereira. Preferred to Fred, the £52 million (Dh252m) man thus appearing United’s eighth-choice midfielder, he scored in style. Southampton’s second goal added to the throwback factor. Ward-Prowse has been another beneficiary of Hasenhuttl’s appointment and his sixth goal in nine games was Beckham-esque, whipped into the top corner from 25 yards. “Those two strikes for them,” reflected Solskjaer. “Absolute quality.”

Lukaku provided an eloquent response to each, his brace sandwiching Ward-Prowse’s goal. The first came after he turned past Jan Bednarek, the second from outside the box. It meant it mattered not that Alexis Sanchez exited early after another undistinguished display with a knee injury – he will undergo a scan on Sunday - and that Paul Pogba’s third missed spot kick of the season was only a footnote. It was awarded when Marcus Rashford was tripped by Stuart Armstrong. The Frenchman’s penalty rebounded off the legs of Gunn. “I just said to him, ‘get ready for the next one because you are going to take that one as well,’” pledged Solskjaer.

While he could smile, Hasenhuttl looked drained by defeat. “We had a few crucial scenes,” he added, citing tugs by Chris Smalling and Ashley Young on Ryan Bertrand. “The two incidents for penalties. And their second goal is offside: very close, but off.”

Updated: March 2, 2019 11:01 PM

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