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Ighalo answers Solskjaer's call as Man Utd season reaches crucial phase

odion ighalo - cropped
Odion Ighalo scores against Club Brugge
Omnisport
NEWS
Modified 28 Feb 2020, 03:46 IST
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There were times last month that Odion Ighalo thought his Manchester United move was not going to happen. In fact, there were times on deadline day itself that the deal appeared dead in the water.

"It was quiet on Thursday and then I got the impression that nothing would happen. Suddenly, in the middle of the day on Friday, things started to move," said agent Atta Aneke.

"It was then 11pm in the evening in Shanghai. It was hectic phone business. Everyone had to stay awake until five am or six am in Shanghai."

Ighalo, a boyhood United fan, was prepared to stay up as late as necessary to get the loan of his dreams. A peculiar transfer it might have been, but, after his performance against Club Brugge on Thursday, it was worth the frantic phone calls.

With Marcus Rashford's back injury likely to keep him out for much of the season's remaining weeks, the news before kick-off against Club Brugge that in-form Anthony Martial had sustained another muscle problem was most unwelcome for all of a Red Devils persuasion. Except Ighalo, perhaps.

Thrust into the floodlights for his full Old Trafford debut, and with the Europa League last-32 tie still in the balance after the 1-1 draw in the first leg, this was not a moment for indulgences. Ighalo was not in the team because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt a sudden surge of generosity, but because United needed a strong presence and a goal threat leading their attack. Ighalo gave them both.

There were barely 20 seconds played when Ighalo raced in behind the Brugge back four to endanger Simon Mignolet's goal. It sparked the game into life: Juan Mata was denied, Bruno Fernandes hit the post, and Brugge threatened once again from a simple goal-kick, the kind from which they scored last week.

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Fernandes and Mata were pulling the strings - they might have been joined by one, such was the quality of their interplay - but Ighalo was piecing things together. The ball was fizzed and thumped into him repeatedly, to feet, chest and head, and he found a team-mate with three out of four passes in the final third.

Once Fernandes had scored his second Old Trafford penalty in succession after Simon Deli had been sent off for a flying save to deny Daniel James - he, apparently, wasn't convinced Mignolet's form would continue - the tie was practically under United's control. A second goal was needed to be certain; when it came, it brought the loudest cheer of the night.

Fernandes and Mata combined again, the Spaniard cut the ball back, and there was Ighalo, still wide awake, still ready to arrive at just the right time. It was a goal he would once have never thought possible, and one he dedicated to his sister, who died a month before he came a United player.

Scott McTominay and Fred added further goals - the latter netting a brace - and 5-0 was no less than United deserved. This was the kind of bold, accomplished display they will need in this competition when the grander teams come calling.

Ighalo will have a major part to play in those latter rounds, particularly if Martial joins Rashford on the sidelines for long. His performance here showed he could be a valuable asset - and that it pays to keep your phone switched on.

Published 28 Feb 2020, 03:46 IST
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