Manchester United laboured their way to the fourth round of the FA Cup thanks to a narrow victory over Wigan, with question marks raised over Rasmus Hojlund once again.
When it comes to European football, there’s no doubting Hojlund’s quality, with the Dane scoring five goals in his six appearances in the Champions League despite Man Utd crashing out. But in domestic football, he has struggled.
In the Premier League, Hojlund has scored just one goal in 15 matches, finally breaking his duck in the 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Boxing Day. He missed the 2-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest to close out the year, as yet unable to build on his maiden domestic strike.
That opportunity came on Monday night in the third round of the FA Cup, Hojlund’s first start in a domestic cup in England — with his two EFL appearances totalling 41 minutes. Against League One side Wigan, this was surely the opportunity for Hojlund to score a couple and get his confidence up.
Instead, it was more of the same. The Dane had four shots against Wigan, hitting the target twice, but also sending two wide. Those two wide efforts, both in the first half, brought a lot of criticism on Hojlund. One was a header in front of goal that he didn’t manage to keep down, which had former Arsenal striker Ian Wright believing he should have done better.
The second summed up his time at Man Utd so far, as Hojlund bundled a rebound from a Marcus Rashford strike wide of the goal from inside the six-yard box. When your luck is down, it really is down.
But don’t talk to Roy Keane about luck.
“I’d be fuming with him,” he said at half-time on ITV’s coverage of the match.
“We wanted United to show a side of their game tonight. They’ve brought their habits from the Premier League into tonight in terms of missing chances, not being clinical.
“I want to see that side of United tonight. And with your striker, he’s missing chances, we can say it’s unlucky all day. They’re great opportunities, put the ball in the back of the net, stop messing about.”
Overall, Man Utd had 33 shots against Wigan, hitting the target 14 times but they were left thanking their Portuguese duo for sending them to the fourth round. The first was Diogo Dalot who opened the scoring in the first half, earning praise from Portugal manager Roberto Martinez.
“It’s not a surprise, for two reasons,” he said on ITV.
“One, I think this season he’s been very important and he’s had an important role in the side. And the other one is that he’s got that quality to finish moves. Here we can see his position, I think that’s been a big difference tactically.
“Man Utd found an extra man internally. Look at Dalot now, how instead of going and overlapping the player, he will be patient, into the box and then here is as cool, as composed as you’re going to see. And that’s placing the ball into the back of the net from outside the box.
“But the positioning of arriving here, is just where Man Utd found too much space during the game in that inside channel. It’s a great finish from him.”
The second goal was all about Bruno Fernandes. The Man Utd captain was brought down in the box with just over 15 minutes left to play; there was contact, though it was very slight, with some believing it wasn’t enough to send Fernandes down as he did. Unnerved by the reaction of fans, Fernandes stepped up and coolly finished, putting Man Utd in full contract.