A night that began with Manchester United fans serenading their greatest-ever goalscorer ended with them celebrating their latest and one of the most unlikely. Odion Ighalo was always going to be an unorthodox January signing but he is beginning to look like an astute acquisition too. His brace helped to beat Derby County , send his new side into the FA Cup quarter-finals and spoil Wayne Rooney’s night.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will travel to play Norwich City after a convincing 3-0 win at Pride Park, courtesy of a disputed Luke Shaw goal and two more by Ighalo. The on-loan striker from Shanghai Shenhua has three goals from six appearances and only two starts. It is a promising start and enough to suggest that he will be an able deputy between now and the end of the season, if not beyond.
Ighalo certainly overshadowed Rooney, center of attention in the build-up but a sideshow on the night. There was a lot of pointing and shouting from the 34 -year-old Derby captain, plus the odd hint of his former brilliance, not to mention a lot of affection for his talents from both sets of supporters. And yet, even one goal against the club for who he scored 253 was too much to ask.
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The evening would have taken a different turn entirely if, after 21 minutes, Rooney had found a little extra purchase on a free-kick in a threatening position. Derby had already started well, and their captain’s set-piece ability is one of the few aspects of his game which stands undiminished. Yet just as the ball appeared to be creeping into the bottom left-hand corner, guided by narrative’s hand, Sergio Romero pawed it around the post.
That was the closest Rooney would come to any sort of memento. It was still a special occasion but otherwise a forgettable contest, one effectively decided by Shaw’s breakthrough. The left-back may still be waiting for his first career goal away from home, as his volley into the ground appeared to take a deflection off team-mate Jesse Lingard, but Shaw had still struck with enough force to take it out of goalkeeper Kelle Roos’ reach.
Ighalo’s first quickly followed. Again, Shaw was instrumental, driving in from the left and passing straight into the Nigerian’s feet. His control was clumsy, almost giving the Derby defense a chance to clear their lines, but he brought the ball back under control, created enough space for himself to shoot and converted low into the corner.
Rooney was not best pleased and soon took out his frustrations on the much-improved Fred, who impertinently attempted to dribble past the former England captain and was appropriately taken down a peg. Bookmakers had offered 5/1 on Rooney to be cautioned and were now paying out after 253 minutes. It was the very definition of easy money, yet Rooney had every right to be annoyed with how ineffective Derby were.
Richard Arnold, the United director, recently boasted of how Ighalo’s signing had trended above Brexit and Donald Trump’s impeachment on Twitter. You wonder how many hashtags the striker’s second inspired. It was an emphatic and instinctive finish, taken at the second attempt after a slick one-two with Juan Mata resulted in his first shot being blocked. Roos had no hope of stopping the powerful, left-footed strike. The contest had been ended once and for all.
The only remaining interest was around whether Rooney would get his goal. “If Rooney scores, we’re on the pitch,” the United end sang in the dying minutes. Another free-kick, this time from considerable distance, was clawed out of the corner by Romero. The traveling support let out a mild groan, then burst into chants of “Rooney, Rooney”. He acknowledged their affection after the final whistle, and will always have a place in their hearts, but United march on to make new memories.