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Marcus Rashford the sole bright spark amid another lacklustre Man United display

The 21-year-old England international assisted both goals before being taken off by Jose Mourinho.

Southampton's Jannik Vestergaard (left) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) battle for the ball.
Southampton's Jannik Vestergaard (left) and Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) battle for the ball.
Image: Mark Kerton

IF SOMEONE UNFAMILIAR with the Premier League had watched the opening half an hour of today’s match at St Mary’s Stadium, they would surely have guessed it was Man United, rather than Southampton, who were the side without a win at home all season and struggling in the relegation zone.

The Red Devils have had a habit of making life difficult for themselves and starting slowly in games this season, and today was no exception.

Two clinical goals inside the opening 20 minutes saw the Saints storm into an unlikely-but-deserved lead.

With Ireland’s 18-year-old striker Michael Obafemi catching the eye on his full debut and providing an assist for the opener, Southampton’s play was as confident and purposeful as United’s was pedestrian and lethargic.

In the final 15 minutes of the first half, however, the visitors came alive, and while Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera got the goals, young England international Marcus Rashford proved the catalyst for this fightback.

The 21-year-old did especially well for the first goal, showing impressive strength to shrug off the challenge of an opponent before demonstrating a touch of class with his inch-perfect through ball leaving Lukaku with the relatively easy task of slotting home for his first Premier League strike since September, ending a run of 12 matches and 981 minutes without a goal.

Six minutes later, Rashford was the primary influence again. Good work down the right saw the Manchester native find space for a dangerous cross that was converted via an exquisite back-flick from Ander Herrera.

All the momentum appeared to be with the visitors now, after they had restored parity with the aid of some inept Southampton defending.

Yet the following 45 minutes were decidedly anti-climactic, in keeping with United’s general inconsistency in the Premier League during this deeply underwhelming campaign.

In the second half, an innocuous Paul Pogba effort was their only effort on target — a moment that summed up another ineffectual display from the World Cup winner, who conceded possession cheaply and put his side under pressure unnecessarily on more than one occasion.

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To add insult to injury, Rashford — United’s main attacking threat — was oddly substituted with 13 minutes remaining.

Southampton v Manchester United - Premier League - St Mary's Stadium Marcus Rashford speaks to Jose Mourinho after being taken off. Source: Andrew Matthews

After Jose Mourinho’s controversial reaction to his miss in the Champions League earlier this week, there is the continuing sense that the under-pressure Portuguese manager is not making the best use of the England star’s undoubted talent.

The away support’s dismayed reaction to the manager’s contentious decision to eject the youngster from the action, picked up by the TV cameras, spoke volumes about the disillusionment with how the club is being run at the moment.

While their Champions League campaign has gone relatively well, as evidenced by their qualification with one game to spare, the Red Devils’ league form has been nothing short of a disaster this season.

Today’s result saw United fall 16 points behind table toppers and bitter rivals Manchester City, while they could end the weekend nine points off the top four with the prospect of top-level European football next season looking increasingly distant.

Rashford, who has not always been a regular starter under Mourinho, consequently seems a symbol of the club’s problems — of unfulfilled potential, of talent restricted and of youthful exuberance stymied amid this repressive regime.

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Paul Fennessy

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