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Wayne Rooney struggles as Manchester United hit back against Northampton

EFL Cup: Northampton 1-3 Man United

By Ian Herbert

Published 22/09/2016

Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring his sides third goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring his sides third goal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Alex Revell of Northampton Town celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Alex Revell of Northampton Town celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks dejected during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United takes a drink during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Alex Revell of Northampton Town is beaten to a header by Chris Smalling of Manchester United during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Michael Carrick of Manchester United celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Adam Smith of Northampton Town dives as Michael Carrick of Manchester United scores his sides first goal during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Manchester United's Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo (L) vies with Northampton's English striker Sam Hoskins during the English League Cup third round football match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton, central England, on September 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Northampton's English striker Alex Revell (L) vies in the air with Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera during the English League Cup third round football match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton, central England, on September 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United's English midfielder Michael Carrick (R) scores his team's first goal during the English League Cup third round football match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton, central England, on September 21, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. / BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United looks on from the tunnel prior to the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United signs autographs prior to the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United poses for selfie photographs with fans prior to the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United looks on from the tunnel prior to the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United at Sixfields on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
A detail view of the matchday fixture board outside the ground before the EFL Cup, Third Round match at Sixfields Stadium, Northampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Northampton. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
A general view of the ground before the EFL Cup, Third Round match at Sixfields Stadium, Northampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Northampton. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
A vendor sells scarves outside thr ground before the EFL Cup, Third Round match at Sixfields Stadium, Northampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 21, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Northampton. Photo credit should read: David Davies/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 21: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was processed using Snapseed) A man selling matchday scarves ahead of the EFL Cup Third Round match between Northampton Town and Manchester United poses for a photo outside the Grosvenor Centre, located in the town centre on September 21, 2016 in Northampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

A calamity averted for the manager and the side on whose struggles the football firmament is currently transfixed, though there was nothing to suggest a corner turned and easier times immediately ahead.

Jose Mourinho was subdued, carrying some of the world on his shoulders, it seemed, and his litany of complaints to the fourth official which we are accustomed to could not hide the fact.

He wore grey shoes last night and the grey look of an individual wondering where his Midas touch disappeared to. The burden that skipper Wayne Rooney has immediately become to him was not lightened - nor was his mood when the Red Devils drew Manchester City in the next round of the EFL Cup.

The 30-year-old ended the game wide right, a bystander to the recovery from Manchester United's brief difficult spell which substitutes Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford had manufactured.

The drift towards the unenviable decision to drop Rooney is no less inexorable because of a win against such modest opposition as Northampton Town.

It will dominate the discourse ahead of Saturday's encounter with Leicester and when it comes, it will be another drama.

All told, it was not exactly a narrative and an inheritance to smile about, even though the performances of goalscorers Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Rashford in the 3-1 win certainly were. All three staked a claim to start against the Foxes.

It was no place for a manager who, as every amateur statistician seemed to know, lost 14 out of his previous 32 games as a manager and just succumbed to three successive defeats for the first time in 14 years.

All the little rituals of a United journey into modest surrounds were in place. A chorus of boos for Ibrahimovic as he stepped out from the stand were substantial. He paused, with manifest disdain, to take in what he was seeing. A face-to-face encounter with Northampton's Bob the Builder mascot.

Mourinho's line-up had a touch of reputation building about it. All but two of the team that succumbed at Watford were rested and the prevailing mood of national doubt about Rooney in the intervening days made his own inclusion an enforced one.

The work-rate from him was there in the first half, of course, but there was no redemption. Operating at the spear of the attack, he was anything but sharp.

The forward was spared initial embarrassment by straying into an offside position when he side-footed wide in front of goal, after Ashley Young teed him up after seven minutes.

He couldn't reach the six-yard box fast enough to divert Marco Rojo's low cross from the left into the net seven minutes later. When he finally did poke home a rebound when Tim Fosu-Mensah's header had clattered the bar, he was offside again.

Carrick provided the class and assurance which has been missing in midfield.

Restored after a month when he has been invisible to Mourinho, his opening 18th-minute goal - a right-footed shot bent into the top left-hand corner when a free-kick was blocked into his path - was fine, and so too his ability to find a forward pass.

Rojo's attempt to defend United's left flank was frankly inept as Sam Hoskins embarrassed him twice in the first half hour. The team's attempts to build from the back were also laboured.

Fosu-Mensah was also in a state of panic when Kenji Gorre, the former United trainee, ran at him.

First he allowed the 21-year-old Dutch loanee to find a shot which Sergio Romero had to touch onto the bar and over.

Then he dithered in possession in the box, allowing Hoskins to seize the ball.

Daley Blind clumsily fouled him and Alex Revell converted the penalty.

The reinforcements were on within 10 minutes of the re-start - Rooney dropping back for Ibrahimovic to seize his space and Rashford arriving to win some returns on the left and provide more meaningful service than an ineffective Memphis Depay.

Rashford was the impact player again, delivering high into the area after collecting a 40-yard ball from Carrick and then laying a ball into the inside left channel that Herrera ran onto and thumped low past Adam Smith.

The night was wrapped up when the goalkeeper was undone by his own nerves when a lumped ball descended on him with Rashford in pursuit, 15 minutes from time.

Smith made to kick it and found fresh air, allowing Rashford to nip in and walk it into the net. It was the fortune of a striker operating with such an unfettered mind that he believes things will happen. Rooney has forgotten what that feels like.

NORTHAMPTON: Smith, Moloney, Buchanan, Diamond, Revell, Gorre (Potter, 66 mins), McCourt (Richards, 73 mins), Hoskins, Beautyman (O'Toole, 54 mins), Taylor. Unused subs: Cornell, Byrom, Sonupe, Nyatanga.

MAN UTD: Romero, Fosu-Mensah (Rashford, 55 mins), Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin (Fellaini, 73 mins), Carrick, Memphis (Ibrahimovic, 55 mins), Herrera, Young, Rooney. Unused subs: Johnstone, Darmian, Lingard, Mata.

Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)

Man of the match: Michael Carrick

Match rating: 6/10

Belfast Telegraph

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