The flying England forward ended a rotten run of club form in front of goal and impressed up front before Lallana muted home fans’ celebrations
A make-or-break afternoon for Manchester United on Sunday began with fans staring at the skies above Old Trafford.
Clearly boasting deep pockets and scarce patience, disgruntled supporters hired a plane to fly over the stadium. “Ed-Still failing: #Woodward Out” read the banner hanging from the craft, in unmistakeable repudiation of the director who, for many at United, personifies the failings and mismanagement which have seen the Red Devils sink into mid-table obscurity early this season.
The result may not have been the one United could and perhaps should have sealed after leading for the best part of an hour, but a spirited 1-1 draw to frustrate Liverpool does at least give Ed Woodward an inch of breathing space amid criticism of his transfer dealings. Indeed, for the first time this season, Jurgen Klopp’s high-fliers have been brought back down to earth.
Klopp will hope to put this game behind him as soon as possible. Liverpool looked sluggish and apathetic throughout a mean first half, dominating possession but rarely causing any concerns for David de Gea, a surprise inclusion between the posts after a last-minute return from injury.
United, meanwhile, set up conservatively, with five defenders screened by Scott McTominay and Fred in a bid to squeeze the life out of their arch-rivals. It may not have made for thrilling viewing, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plan certainly was effective as the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum were starved of space around the area and made to look unusually ineffective.
And when the moment did arrive to push forward, the hosts did not squander their chance. Divock Origi was caught day-dreaming in possession midway through the first half, with the loose round ball falling to Daniel James.
The summer signing showed a startling turn of pace to break free down the right and his cross dropped straight into the path of Marcus Rashford, who finished with class to end a five-match goalless run while Liverpool fruitlessly looked to VAR as their saviour. The technology would come into play, but not in their favour: minutes later Sadio Mane got the best of Victor Lindelof and fired home, but the cameras rightly called play back for handball to the obvious displeasure of a fuming Klopp.
Liverpool have historically struggled against their great adversaries, with 14 less wins than their opponents going into Sunday’s match; and they rarely looked like reducing that deficit as their perfect start to the Premier League season came to an end. There was a late cheer for the Merseysiders, though, when Adam Lallana stole between United’s defence and fired past De Gea from Andy Robertson’s low cross, a near-carbon copy of Rashford’s first-half strike.
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That late equaliser was a body blow for United, who had appeared destined for what would have been a huge victory to bring some cheer to a sombre Old Trafford. Still, there were plenty of positives to take from Sunday’s draw, not least fine displays from both Rashford and James, questioned by some for their lack of goals.
United needed steel, concentration and resolve to upset the form-book, and to the relief of both Woodward and Solskjaer, subject of no few criticisms himself, they frustrated their opponents for large swathes of the game.
The Red Devils might still be struggling to get going, and a club of their stature should never be pleased with a share of the points; but Sunday’s determined display at least showed that the engines are still running for this young, limited but undoubtedly hungry team.