Manchester United had enough chances to win 10 matches against Derby County on Friday but it took them until six minutes from time to finally book a trip to the fourth round of the FA Cup as a piece of individual magic from Jesse Lingard helped to dig Marcus Rashford, in particular, out of a hole.
The England striker was occasionally dazzling in the Derby half but when it came to the crunch in front of goal he was too often left wanting, wasting his opportunity to show Jose Mourinho that he can have a future as Manchester United’s No.9.
While Romelu Lukaku was back in the squad after the head injury which saw him depart early against Southampton on Saturday, Mourinho decided to give Rashford only his second start as the main striker this season in a 4-1-4-1 formation which provided plenty of attacking support.
However, whatever situation Rashford found himself in, he simply couldn’t pull the trigger effectively. He spawned three great opportunities in the first half alone.
First, he fired over after making space for himself in the right channel, then he somehow headed against the far post from an easy chance four yards out before going on to find Derby keeper Scott Carson with a header he might well have expected to bury.
It was the same story even after Lukaku came on for the ineffective Henrikh Mkhitaryan at half-time, with Rashford finding the far post with a blazing effort from the right of the area but then snatching at another chance after the ball came back to him.
His night was summed up when his free-kick from the left bye-line was fired straight at Johnny Russell, the only man in the defensive wall, and easily cleared.
Rashford was put out of his personal misery when he was replaced by the returning Marouane Fellaini with 10 minutes to go but by then the profligacy bug had well and truly caught on. As United launched a bombardment on the Championship side’s goal, Paul Pogba was denied more than once by Carson, while Ander Herrera also snatched at a couple of openings.
With time running out and with 26 shots having rained in on Carson’s goal to no effect, United finally broke through thanks to their closest thing to a guarantee in front of goal of late.
Lingard unleashed a wonderful right-foot half-volley into the far top corner, leaving Carson with no chance and extending his run to eight goals in 10 games.
Only Lukaku has scored more for United than Lingard’s 11 this term, which is an incredible stat considering Lingard was only being used as a bit-part player until barely a month ago.
What's more, this was another wonderstrike of the variety which has had some United fans jokingly referring to him as 'Messi Lingard'.
Lukaku added the second himself in the final minute as Derby chased the game and left space at the back, and United were worth at least the 2-0 victory if not more given the opportunities they created over the course of the night.
In truth, though, Rashford should have had the game dead and buried long before the late flurry and his lack of confidence in front of goal with be a source of great concern to United’s movers and shakers.