LONDON • A night in which Manchester United's Europa League campaign threatened to come to an end instead heralded the arrival of a new teenage headline-maker.
Debutant Marcus Rashford helped United overcome an early blow with two key goals in a 5-1 win over Midtjylland in their Europa League round-of-32 return leg on Thursday.
United, who eventually secured a 6-3 aggregate win, looked on their way out when Pione Sisto gave the Danes the lead. But an own goal by Nikolay Bodurov, Rashford's double, an Ander Herrera penalty and a late goal from Memphis Depay at Old Trafford saw them safely through.
Sitting six points off the top four in the Premier League, United may yet find this competition is the only route back into the Champions League. Amid fraught circumstances following their 1-2 first-leg loss, the evening could not have started in worse fashion for United manager Louis van Gaal when Anthony Martial strained his hamstring during the warm-up.
With Wayne Rooney already among more than a dozen injured absentees in the squad, the loss of Martial left United turning to Rashford - the club's leading Under-18 scorer last season with 13 goals from 25 starts.
With the scores level on the night and United 2-3 down on aggregate, Rashford netted his first from close range off a Juan Mata cross. He then converted Guillermo Varela's centre on the half-volley for his second in the 75th minute.
His 64th-minute opener meant that, at 18 years and 117 days, he is the club's youngest scorer in Europe. He eclipsed the great George Best (18 years and 158 days) who netted in a 6-1 win over Djurgarden in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in October 1964.
Just as significantly, Rashford showed why there has long been such hope surrounding him at United's much-maligned academy.
Van Gaal, asked if he had any doubts about putting Rashford - a graduate of the same youth team as England striker Danny Welbeck - in the team, told a post-match news conference: "I didn't have another option so it was easy. He was there on the bench because he was the natural substitute for Martial."
Van Gaal has had his critics this season but one thing he cannot be faulted for is promoting United's youth. Varela, 22, came in at right-back for his sixth appearance while Joe Riley, 24, made his first start at left-back, and the Dutchman had reason to be delighted with all three of his youngsters.
"We put in a fantastic performance and that is a great compliment to the guts of the players, especially the younger ones," he said. "It cannot have been easy for Rashford and Joe Riley to make their debuts in European competition, with the pressure of knowing we have to win, but they hit a fantastic level.
"They might not have been expecting to make the first team so soon, but they have just completed an unbelievable step in their development."
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN