It was almost too good to be true: the only Manc on the pitch scoring the winner in his first Manchester derby; a player who cost nowt showing up the plutocrats’ multimillion team; a kid saving the bacon — for now — of a beleaguered boss but one who can still be given grudging credit for giving youth a chance.
Rashford’s French sidekick, Martial, lived up to his surname too, at one point putting compatriot Sagna to the sword with such élan that mousquetaire imagery sprang joyously to mind. (And I’ll leave it to you to draw some rather obvious King Louis comparisons.)
We’re back dancing the old Friesian fandango, of course. You can file yesterday alongside other rather unexpected rabbits pulled from Van Gaal’s hats at critical junctures, such as the league victories over Arsenal and Liverpool — and the derby certainly rescued a week that had both put us out of Europe and on the edge of an FA Cup abyss opening up at Upton Park.
And, oh, how it was needed. Last Thursday was a memorably miserable experience for all Reds, with those at the east end of the ground in particular unlikely to forget a concourse half-time spent glumly listening to LFC fans celebrating what they already knew would be our elimination. Many an angry Red must have thought afterwards that only a derby victory would suffice to balm that wound. For once, in this benighted season, the footballing deities have cocked a sympathetic ear. The gods really must love a sinner, hey Louis?
Suddenly, fourth place is back on for United; suddenly, Pep Guardiola may be getting that ‘new experience’ he wanted — except that it’d be ‘a season without the Champions League’. It may seem parochial and small-minded to some outside observers but many a Red would look upon the prospect of United snatching a Champions League place from City as the emotional equivalent of a trophy. (Assuming, that is, that the ultimate horror of horrors doesn’t occur, ie, City winning this season’s European Cup. Good luck finding a Red in Manchester this summer if that apocalyptic freak fluke were to happen.)
Combine fourth spot with a trip to Wembley and, well... would someone then pipe up with a hopeful chant of ‘LVG Must Stay’?
That someone wouldn’t be Ryan Giggs or José Mourinho, of course, both of whose camps were busy last week. Giggs gave a rare interview to a couple of broadsheets, in which he somehow magnificently managed to avoid discussing either Louis or his own future, whilst half a dozen of his former team-mates transparently bigged up his succession candidacy — and slated Van Gaal — over successive days.
Whereas the respected José biographer Diego Torres was rather more direct in the august El Pais at the weekend, bluntly asserting that a long-rumoured pre-contract agreement with United has indeed been signed. This would certainly tally with what the Red Issue website’s famed Lisbon correspondent has been consistently alleging for weeks. Caveat emptor, though: a pre-contract is not a contract. Ed Woodward appears to be ensuring he leaves himself as much wiggle room as possible for any eleventh hour shenanigans. To be fair, this seems wise — if he can pull it off, which is one of the biggest ‘ifs’ going.
So Manchester, at least, is ours once more: City have failed to score against us in successive derbies for the first time since the autumn of 2010. The ‘noisy neighbours’ have been silenced and, on this equinox day, hope Springs eternal.
Enjoy gambolling like lambs — while it lasts.