Jadon Sancho comes to United's rescue

Sancho rescued a Manchester United side, without their regular midfield pairing of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, from disaster in the quest for a top-four finish and Champions League football.
Jadon Sancho comes to United's rescue

RESCUE MISSION: Manchester United's Jadon Sancho celebrates with his team-mates. Pic: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

Jadon Sancho, a player whose search for mental and physical fitness took him away from Erik ten Hag’s first team for three months this season, made a triumphant return to league action last night.

In the process, he rescued a Manchester United side, without their regular midfield pairing of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, from disaster in the quest for a top-four finish and Champions League football.

Goals from Wilfried Gnonto and Crysencio Summerville threatened to secure a Leeds win, in the most stunning fashion, with former Old Trafford coach Chris Armas looking on as part of a three-man Leeds management team appointed this week to replace the axed Jesse Marsch.

But, on 62 minutes, United’s persistence paid off as Diogo Dalot’s cross was met by Marcus Rashford who headed in his 20th goal of the season from 10 yards to halve arrears.

There was almost a third for Leeds, as Brenden Aaronson struck the foot of the post with a free-kick soon after, but on 70 minutes Sancho struck with his first league goal since the start of September.

Luke Shaw sprinted down the left and, after a one-two with Sancho, his cross took a kind deflection back to the winger. Sancho made no mistake with a superb right-foot finish through a busy area and into the far corner.

The England winger was forced to spend time away from Old Trafford last year, with a plan carefully orchestrated with Ten Hag, to work on his wellbeing, meaning he had not been in league action since October although his return to the United squad could be particularly timely — given the absence of two of his midfield colleagues.

The loss of United’s Casemiro-Eriksen midfield axis was always likely to be problematic but there was still little to predict they would implode so quickly — within 55 seconds of kick-off.

Diogo Dalot found Bruno Fernandes under pressure around the halfway line and he was quickly tackled by Pascal Struijk who sent Gnonto on his way towards the home goal.

A quick one-two with Patrick Bamford left Raphael Varane trailing in his wake and the Italian finished with a superbly-placed strike from the edge of the area.

United would later enjoy spells of pressure in the first half but, within three minutes of the second period starting, Leeds had doubled their lead and were apparently on the way to their first win at Old Trafford in 42 years.

Robin Koch dispossessed Garnacho in midfield and released Gnonto with a through ball that the Italian quickly turned into the path of Summerville.

The youngster, scorer of an 89th-minute winner at Anfield earlier this season, enjoyed a fortunate deflection off Varane as his angled cross-shot beat a wrong-footed David de Gea.

If the start to the first half had been stunning, this was an even more unexpected turn of events from a Leeds team that had scored just four goals since the World Cup, a run that led to Marsch’s sacking on Monday.

After their opener, Leeds might have made it two, as early as the 11th minute, when Jack Harrison’s cross was flicked on by Bamford to the far post where an unmarked Struijk tried to force the ball in but was denied by de Gea.

The start clearly rattled a United team currently in the middle of their best run of home form since the Sir Alex Ferguson years a dozen seasons ago.

But, slowly, United looked more capable, more like their old selves, or the selves that ten Hag has painstakingly forged from the low points of last season and the first couple of games of this.

Dalot found Fernandes whose excellent pass gave Alejandro Garnacho space only for the youngster to plant a good chance wide, debutant Marcel Sabitzer was also just wide from 25 yards and, on 26 minutes, Garnacho might have levelled.

The winger chased a Fernandes through ball, rounded Illan Meslier but saw his effort headed off the line by Maximilian Wober.

Sabitzer, not surprisingly off the pace early on, was growing into the game and when a Garnacho strike was blocked, his curling effort from the rebound forced Meslier into a blinding save in his top corner.

Still, Leeds looked well in control with their second goal, only to come undone late and it required a brilliant fingertip save from Meslier to deny Varane's header, and a potential winner, late in proceedings.

MAN UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Dalot 6 (Malacia 81), Varane 5, Martinez 7, Shaw 6; Fred 6, Sabitzer 7 (Lindelof 81); Garnacho 5 (Pellistri 58, 6), Fernandes 7, Rashford 7; Weghorst 5 (Sancho 58, 7). 

LEEDS (4-2-3-1): Meslier 7; Ayling 6, Koch 6, Wober 7, Struijk 7 (Firpo 23, 6); Adams 7, McKennie 7 (Greenwood 89); Sinisterra (Summerville 7, 6), Harrison 6 (Aaronson 63, 6), Gnonto 8 (Joseph 89); Bamford 6 (Rutter 63, 6). 

Referee: S Hooper 6

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