Marcus Rashford came off the bench to steer Manchester United to a 1-0 victory over struggling Wolves at Molineux and send them into 2023 in the top four of the Premier League.
Rashford had scored two in two since returning from the World Cup but was benched by Erik ten Hag on Saturday for disciplinary reasons as United put in a blunt first-half performance.
The England international was introduced at the break and had a huge impact, firing home a 76th-minute winner with a powerful finish past Jose Sa, before he later had a second ruled out following a VAR check.
It could be a huge three points for United on the road as they leapfrog Tottenham into fourth, with Spurs due to play Aston Villa on Sunday.
The hosts received a huge let-off early on when an under-hit Nelson Semedo backpass put Alejandro Garnacho in on goal, only for Sa to bail out his right-back with a vital stop.
Marcus Rashford can’t stop scoring!
— Manchester United (@ManUtd)
Diego Costa missed a big chance shortly after, doing the hard work to make space for a shot but sending a tame effort straight into the waiting hands of David de Gea.
Antony spurned an opportunity before the break when he saw a header saved after great work down the left by Garnacho and Tyrell Malacia.
Rashford, brought on at half-time, had the last laugh when his battling run ended with him smashing into the back of the net.
He had the ball in the back of the net in the 85th minute but the ball was adjudged to have come off his arm, and De Gea superbly kept out Raul Jimenez’s header in the closing seconds as United held on for all three points.
What does it mean? Ten Hag’s gamble pays off
The disciplinary reasons for Rashford being dropped to the substitute’s bench were not explained prior to the game, but United’s drab first-half performance forced Ten Hag into action.
He could hardly have asked for a better response from Rashford, who made an immediate impact and won the game for United, putting them above Spurs ahead of their match with Aston Villa on Sunday. Three consecutive league wins have put the Red Devils in a great position, and they will fancy their chances of extending that run against out-of-form Bournemouth next time out.
With United struggling to create much of note in the first half, they were crying out for a change. Up stepped Rashford to score in three straight games for United in all competitions for the first time since 2019.
He gave Ten Hag’s men some much needed attacking spark and clinically scored his only big chance, which was rated at just 0.14 xG (expected goals). He is bang in form at the minute and will be looking to carry on this form in 2023.
United’s £85million man failed to live up to his price tag yet again at Molineux as it was left up to academy product Rashford to bring home the points.
Antony failed to create a chance despite playing the entire game and he was loose with possession again, completing just 59 per cent of his passes in the Wolves half, compared to Bruno Fernandes’ 83 per cent.
United kick off the New Year at home to Bournemouth on Tuesday, while Wolves will travel to Midlands rivals Aston Villa on Wednesday for their first game of 2023.