Manchester United progressed into the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday but had to survive a scare from Newport County.
The Reds made hard work of their League Two opposition, squandering a two-goal lead before eventually winning 4-2.
United started well, taking the lead through Bruno Fernandes after seven minutes and then doubled their lead six minutes later through Kobbie Mainoo, who scored his first senior goal for the club.
However, just as it looked like the Reds were in for an easy Sunday evening in South Wales, they soon found themselves up against it when Bryn Morris scored ten minutes before halftime.
In fairness, there wasn’t much United could have done to stop this. Morris’ strike had an xG (expected goal) of 0.01, but a deflection from Lisandro Martinez took it past the debutant goalkeeper Altay Bayindir.
After this, United once again showed their fragility and Newport came out strong in the second half, equalising through Will Evans. And for a while, it looked as though the game would be heading to a replay or even worse, a defeat.
Thankfully United did respond with Antony scoring his first of the season before Rasmus Hojliund added the fourth in stoppage time. In the end, it was comfortable but United made a mountain out of a molehill.
This isn’t the first time this season that United have conceded a two-goal lead, doing so away to Copenhagen and Galatasaray. Newport lacked the same quality to trouble United, although it’s a worrying trait that United need to abolish.
Another worrying theme was the complete lack of service to Rasmus Hojlund. The young Dane was able to score but it came via a deflection off a Newport defender rather than a teammate’s assist. Of the eight goals Hojlund has scored this season, only three have been assisted by a teammate.
These numbers are frustrating and highlight how his fellow forwards have failed to find him this season. And Hojlund is just as annoyed, as he could be heard screaming at Alejandro Garnacho for not passing him the ball in the second half.
Is it too simple to suggest swapping Antony and Garnacho? Antony provided the assist for the first goal from the left wing and in recent games Garnacho has looked like a threat on the right. Maybe this could remedy Hojlund’s lack of service.
Then, of course, there was the drama surrounding Marcus Rashford, who missed Sunday’s game after being dropped for disciplinary reasons. The 26-year-old reported ill for training on Friday after being spotted in a Belfast nightclub the night prior.
In his post-match interview, Erik ten Hag repeated that this was an internal matter, and the club subsequently released a statement saying Rashford had taken responsibility for his actions and is back training along with being available for selection against Wolves on Thursday.
Players going out to town is nothing new, but this was ill-advised by Rashford, being one of the most recognised footballers in the world in a city full of Manchester United fans. However, it looks to have been dealt with for now.
Whether this leads to anything in the future is unforeseen, but with INEOS reiterating the need for sporting excellence and the importance of standards, it’s not a good look for the club or Rashford, who should know better at this point in his career.
If there’s a silver lining, Rashford was also dropped last year against Wolves for disciplinary reasons and then went on to score the winner from the bench. If he can replicate this, I’m sure this matter will soon be forgotten.