Marcus Rashford could have wilted after awful miss – instead he dragged Man Utd back from brink

Marcus Rashford screams in despair

Andre Onana clasped Marcus Rashford’s cheeks with either hand, looked his team-mate squarely in the eye and told him not to lose heart. Benni McCarthy, Manchester United’s striker coach, was also over quickly to console the England forward and tell him to keep going. Erik ten Hag and his assistant Steve McClaren were there, too, determined not to allow Rashford’s spirits to drop.

United’s No 10 had just missed a golden chance to win a classic FA Cup tie against the old enemy with the last kick of normal time, the sort of opportunity he would not miss last term, and the Old Trafford staff desperately needed their centre-forward to clear his head and refocus with 30 minutes of extra-time to play. Thirty minutes that could define their season.

You could understand their concern. There have been enough moments in a deeply challenging campaign where Rashford has seemed to retreat into his shell, to wilt, to become wracked with self-doubt when things have gone amiss.

There had been signs of Rashford looking more like his old self charging forward, particularly in the first 35 minutes, even if the ease with which Jarell Quansah rounded him in the lead-up to Liverpool’s equaliser again raised questions about his work rate going the other way.

But that dramatic, last-gasp miss felt emblematic of a player who has been wrestling with himself for much of the past eight months. His first touch to kill Christian Eriksen’s sumptuous looped pass was inch perfect and he opened his body up beautifully to finish.

It actually created the space for him to steer a disguised shot low at the near post but he went for the far corner and looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up when the ball rolled wide.

Whether the goal would have stood had he found the net is debatable as Rashford may have been a fraction offside but he did not know that at the time and it felt like another self-inflicted wound.

Yet what followed may not just prove a turning point in United’s season, and possibly a big moment in the future of Erik ten Hag, but perhaps also the very catalyst Rashford himself needs to rediscover his best form and belief. There are times this season when that miss might have consumed Rashford.

That he should respond so defiantly in extra-time and refuse to allow it to define his afternoon – and arguably his season – spoke volumes and there could not have been a more popular goalscorer when he steered home Scott McTominay’s pass in the 112th minute to make it 3-3 and kick-start one of the great FA Cup comebacks.

Maybe it helped that Rashford did not have too much time to think about it, watching McTominay’s pass roll into his path and drilling it first time hard and low into the same corner he had aimed for and missed not too long before.

Rashford has scored some big goals in his United career but this felt huge on a personal and collective level and ultimately paved the way for the extraordinary winner from Amad Diallo. It was his third goal in as many games and, he will hope, the start of a hot streak, the like of which he found himself on regularly last season.

The miss was not his only one in the game. He had actually fired wide with just Caoimhin Kelleher to beat in the last seconds of the first half of extra time although, on that occasion, he probably knew he was offside as he bore down on goal.

More generally, Ten Hag will be encouraged that there was a purpose, energy, urgency and intent to Rashford’s attacking play.

It was from Rashford’s lovely pass that McTominay really should have put United 2-0 up in the first half and only a fine save from Kelleher had denied the England striker a goal earlier.

The challenge now – for Rashford as much as United – is to ensure this statement leads to something meaningful over the next two months.

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