Rochdale, who languish in the third tier’s bottom half. Rochdale, who only have one fit central defender. Rochdale, who shipped six at Peterborough earlier this month. That United required penalties was frankly embarrassing and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s stony expression said it all, the grim acceptance that standards somehow keep slipping. They squirmed through, Daniel James converting the winning penalty after the unfortunate Jimmy Keohane missed.
United looked like relying on a 17-year-old to bail them out for the second time in under a week. Mason Greenwood will become a superstar, his dead-eyed finishing something to behold, and thought his second goal for the club on 68 minutes had settled this. But a general mist has once again descended on this stadium and United, for now at least, cannot seem to see a way through it.
Rochdale levelled it eight minutes later when a ball popped up for 16-year-old Luke Matheson, whose volley into the ground flew past Sergio Romero and stunned everyone – including those 6,500 jubilant travelling supporters in one corner of Old Trafford. Solskjaer spoke of the impact winning this competition back in 2006 had for that group of players after a painful transitional period.
‘You could see that it was such an important step for the club in restoring the winning culture,’ the manager said. ‘To get a first taste of winning a trophy was huge. Within a couple of years that was one of the best teams United ever had.’ Sadly the same could not be said of the club’s class of 2017, who lifted the Carabao Cup in Jose Mourinho’s first season. We all know what happened then and Solskjaer finding himself in situ now is a product of that.
Juan Mata – SCORED
Andres Pereira – SCORED
Fred – SCORED
Mason Greenwood – SCORED
Daniel James – SCORED
Calvin Andrew – SCORED
Jimmy Keohane – MISSED
Aaron Morley – SCORED
Aaron Wilbraham – SCORED —
What they do have is young promise. Top of the list is Axel Tuanzebe, the 21-year-old central defender thrown the armband by Solskjaer ahead of the returning Paul Pogba. Fittingly, it was a year to the day since Mourinho stripped Pogba of the vice-captaincy before the embarrassing penalty shootout defeat by Derby County at this stage. More strikingly than Pogba’s regrettable anniversary was the faith placed in Tuanzebe, who Aston Villa were desperate to re-sign on loan.
He became United’s youngest captain since Norman Whiteside in 1985. Whiteside had already starred at a World Cup for Northern Ireland by that point. Tuanzebe, playing against his hometown club, spared the blushes of Fred early on. Former United academy graduate Oliver Rathbone hassled the Brazil international, picking his pocket, and Rochdale were suddenly three on two and countering. Tuanzebe mopped up imperiously.
Greenwood always looked the most threatening for United, thundering another effort at Sanchez, before finally breaking Dale resistance with 22 minutes remaining. Williams buccaneered forward, Lingard played a simple pass and Greenwood did the rest, chopping back on his marker and fizzing into the near post.
Little did they know that Matheson would be waiting at the back post eight minutes later. There was nothing United could do on their own line to save that one.