MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – Teenager Marcus Rashford scored two of Manchester United’s four second-half goals in his professional debut in a 5-1 win over FC Midtjylland, sparing the English giant an embarrassing exit from the Europa League on Thursday.
United won 6-3 on aggregate to reach the last 16.
Rashford, an 18-year-old local academy graduate, only found out he was starting a few minutes before kickoff after Anthony Martial joined United’s long injury list when he hurt his right hamstring in the warmup.
He came to United’s rescue after Midtjylland — leading 2-1 after the first leg — took a 27th-minute lead at Old Trafford.
After United equalized via an own goal, Rashford scored in the 63rd and 75th minute to put his team ahead on aggregate. Ander Herrera and Memphis Depay added late goals against the little-known Danish visitors, who were threatening to deliver a new low in the increasingly fragile tenure of United manager Louis van Gaal.
Little did van Gaal know that Rashford would save him from more misery.
Rashford hadn’t started a game above under-19 level for United before he was thrown into the senior team as a last resort by van Gaal. Martial was seen clutching his right hamstring during the warm-up and when United confirmed his absence, van Gaal was without a 14th player because of injury.
Such is United’s injury situation, United began with a second-choice goalkeeper, two midfielders as center-backs, a 19-year-old fullback making his full debut and then Rashford — who hadn’t even started a game for United’s under-21s this season — up front.
Still, Midtjylland was there for the taking, with its whole back line seemingly petrified whenever the ball came near them. Much of its defending was last-ditch and Depay was rampant down United’s left.
Pione Sisto’s goal for Midtjylland came completely against the run of play, the forward holding off Daley Blind, shimmying between Michael Carrick and Herrera, and shooting low into the bottom corner.
Nikolay Bodurov turned Depay’s cross into his own net five minutes later and it was suddenly hard to pick between three eventualities — a win for either side or penalties. That was even more the case when Rashford sidefooted home from Juan Mata’s pull-back to tie the score on aggregate.
But Rashford was on hand in the 75th minute to slot in a close-range finish from Guillermo Varela’s cross to complete a fairytale debut.
It was left to Herrera, from the penalty spot, and Depay, with a wonderful solo goal, to finish the Danish team off. Andre Romer was sent off for Midtjylland with the score at 4-1.
Winning the Europa League could represent United’s best chance of reclaiming a place in the Champions League for next season.