Marcus Rashford turned from villain to hero as he came off the bench to score the only goal against Wolves and move Manchester United into the Premier League top four.
Manager Erik ten Hag left Rashford out of his starting line-up for “internal disciplinary” reasons.
But after a disappointing opening period, in which Rashford’s replacement Alejandro Garnacho wasted the visitors’ best chance when his shot was saved by Jose Sa, the England man scored 14 minutes from time.
Rashford picked the ball up outside the Wolves area, then, after exchanging passes with Bruno Fernandes, held off three defenders before driving home his 11th goal of the season in all competitions.
It was the first time he had scored in three successive games for United since December 2019.
The result ended Julen Lopetegui’s two-match winning start as Wolves manager and kept them in the relegation zone.
However, they came so close to snatching a point in stoppage time when Raul Jimenez’s goal-bound header was turned away at point-blank range by David de Gea.
The availability of loan signing Matheus Cunha for Wednesday’s West Midlands derby at Aston Villa cannot come soon enough for a side who struggle so badly to turn impressive approach play into goals.
Lopetegui said: “The way they fought a big team like Man Utd, in the end I thought we deserved more.”
Ten Hag in charge
Ten Hag proved with his treatment of Cristiano Ronaldo that reputation would not get in the way of reinforcing team discipline.
Evidently, Rashford’s indiscretion was not on the serious scale as he was named on the bench, but, given Garnacho, was stopped from playing during the club’s pre-season tour because of persistent lateness, Ten Hag would view his actions as confirmation the same rules apply to all players, no matter what their status.
As it turned out, Garnacho produced a decent first-half display but, with United failing to make the most of limited opportunities, Rashford replaced the 18-year-old at half-time.
Ten Hag has made it clear he wants striking reinforcements this month. In their absence, Rashford remains United’s most potent goal threat.
The determination he showed to drive through so many defenders and score his latest effort indicates a hunger that was absent for much of last season.
Rashford thought he had a second near the end but his close-range effort was ruled out for handball after Sa saved his initial shot.
The win moved Manchester United into the top four at full time, the first time they have been in the Champions League qualification places this season.
Ten Hag said: “We made a good step today – first time we are in top four but it means nothing.
“We have to win every game. We want to try and win something. It depends on hard work from everyone.”