Sport

Luton 0-Three Manchester United: Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford seal win

These are, of course, unprecedented times, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer discovered there are some things that simply do not change.

Juan Mata remains a delightful footballer at the age of 32, with an ability to illuminate and influence any contest, and Manchester United will usually get a penalty.

These two reliable old forces combined in Solksjaer’s favour at Kenilworth Road. 

Juan Mata scores Manchester United's first goal of the game from the penalty spot after Brandon Williams was brought down

Juan Mata scores Manchester United’s first goal of the game from the penalty spot after Brandon Williams was brought down

Marcus Rashford celebrates with his Manchester United team-mates after scoring the goal that sealed the result for his team

Marcus Rashford celebrates with his Manchester United team-mates after scoring the goal that sealed the result for his team

Mason Greenwood scored a goal in second half stoppage time to help the score line flatter Manchester United more

Mason Greenwood scored a goal in second half stoppage time to help the score line flatter Manchester United more

Mata flickered, sparkled and scored from the spot, just before half time, and it put United in control against spirited Luton Town of the Championship.

It was United’s 23rd penalty in all competitions since the start of last season.

They have converted 19 of them, and this was the one to help their season creep into life, after a belated start and the shock of an unexpected home defeat against Crystal Palace.

Still, Luton refused to yield until Solskjaer unleashed the attacking verve of Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood from the bench and added two late goals as Luton took risks at the back in search of an equaliser.

Rashford claimed United’s second, bursting clear in the 88th minute and Greenwood added the third, a precise finish in stoppage time.

This flattered the visitors but they deserved their victory and a place in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup at Preston or Brighton. 

Dean Henderson made his first start for Manchester United and laid down a statement amid his bid to oust No 1 David de Gea

Dean Henderson made his first start for Manchester United and laid down a statement amid his bid to oust No 1 David de Gea

Henderson's first Manchester United save was an excellent one, diving to his right to deny Luton Town an equaliser

Henderson’s first Manchester United save was an excellent one, diving to his right to deny Luton Town an equaliser

‘I enjoyed the last couple of goals,’ said Solskjaer. ‘It wasn’t planned for them to play. Mason had a fantastic season, last season, and it is important for him and Marcus to get goals, to get that feeling of scoring, to get that hunger again.’

On the subject of Greenwood’s future position, the United boss also joked; ‘For him to be a number nine he needs to learn how to head the ball.’

Another positive for Solksjaer came in goal where Dean Henderson, one of 10 changes to the team beaten by Palace, made his debut after his return from two years on loan at Sheffield United.

Henderson did not have to make a save until late in the game but reacted brilliantly to deny Tom Lockyer an equaliser when required. 

Jesse Lingard and the rest of the Luton and Manchester United players take a knee to highlight the fight against racism

Jesse Lingard and the rest of the Luton and Manchester United players take a knee to highlight the fight against racism

Manchester United's players celebrate with the penalty scorer Mata after he put his team ahead in the first half

Manchester United’s players celebrate with the penalty scorer Mata after he put his team ahead in the first half

Eric Bailly almost made an important clearance in the scramble that followed.

‘It was a good save to keep us away from a penalty shootout,’ said Solskjaer. ‘You can see he has to concentrate, a different job to last season for him.’

United went ahead just before half-time. Brandon Williams, surging forward from left-back, produced an explosive change of pace and was tripped by George Moncur as he moved inside the penalty area.

There was not a lot of contact but Williams was caught and went down in a flash. Referee Tim Robinson did not have any doubts.

‘The speed the ref giving it, I thought he had whistle in his mouth before the foul was committed,’ said Luton boss Nathan Jones. ‘It was a tiny nick, and he’s gone over, but it was clumsy on our part and we have to defend better.’ 

Manchester United forward Lingard runs with the ball and tries to get past a sliding George Moncur of Luton Town

Manchester United forward Lingard runs with the ball and tries to get past a sliding George Moncur of Luton Town

Odion Ighalo takes the ball past Sonny Bradley of Luton Town who slides in with his left foot in an attempt to dispossess him

Odion Ighalo takes the ball past Sonny Bradley of Luton Town who slides in with his left foot in an attempt to dispossess him

Mata stepped up to send goalkeeper James Shea the wrong way from the spot and claimed his first goal since he scored in the 5-0 Europa League win at LASZ Linz, in March.

Luton, who also made wholesale changes with only two players surviving from the team that beat Derby on Saturday, refused to go under.

Shea made second-half saves and Sonny Bradley made important blocks to deny Odion Ighalo and Jesse Lingard. 

Luton Town's Jordan Clark goes flying through the air as he goes up for a header under pressure from Donny van de Beek

Luton Town’s Jordan Clark goes flying through the air as he goes up for a header under pressure from Donny van de Beek

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sits on the side lines, socially distanced from most of his staff members

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sits on the side lines, socially distanced from most of his staff members

Lockyer went closest to an equaliser and the scare promoted Solksjaer to send on his big guns and settle the tie.

‘I feel a bit sick losing 3-0,’ said Jones. ‘It looks like a comfortable win, but it was anything but.

‘We had to go for it and we left ourselves open. They brought on £150million pounds’ worth of talent at the end. Those three coming on, they murder you when they turn over the ball.

‘They are a top four Premier League side with Champions League ambitions and I’m proud of our structure and the manner of our performance.’

Luton Town's striker Danny Hylton pulls the shirt of Manchester United goalkeeper Henderson as he tries to get the ball

Luton Town’s striker Danny Hylton pulls the shirt of Manchester United goalkeeper Henderson as he tries to get the ball

Harry Maguire looks on as Manchester United's defender Brandon Williams attempts to control the ball in the second half

Harry Maguire looks on as Manchester United’s defender Brandon Williams attempts to control the ball in the second half

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