Louis van Gaal’s substitution of Anthony Martial for Marouane Fellaini was met by a chorus of boos from the Old Trafford faithful in Wednesday night’s pivotal win against CSKA Moscow.
The disgruntled home crowd were bellowing: “We’re Man Utd, we want to attack” as the Red Devils looked to be heading for a fourth consecutive dead rubber for the first time since 1992.
But the moment of inspiration finally came thanks to academy graduate Jesse Lingard.
After an exquisite lofted through ball from Michael Carrick, Lingard’s cushioned volley cross presented club captain Wayne Rooney with the perfect opportunity to silence his personal demons and help Old Trafford breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Lingard’s composure to deliver the pin-point cross would have delighted his manager and highlighted the 22-year-old’s ever growing maturity in the first-team set up.
Lingard has been a regular fixture in Van Gaal’s squad since his half-time introduction at Goodison Park in October.
The Warrington born winger has been given the opportunity to excel due to Memphis Depay’s lacklustre start to life in English football, and since coming into the side Lingard has been a revelation.
It is his positivity in possession and willingness to express himself which will please the United fans.
Apart from Martial, United’s team has looked increasingly one-dimensional and bereft of pace or flare but the inclusion of Lingard caused Moscow’s right-hand side nightmares as the English youngster’s direct running put the Russian giants on the back foot.
Lingard’s introduction in the drab Manchester derby gave United more attacking options and he almost managed to secure three points after breaking the Manchester City backline only to be denied by the crossbar.
After plying his trade in the Championship with loan spells at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby, his start against CSKA Moscow was just his fourth for United.
Sure Lingard remains very inexperienced and he’ll continue to make mistakes, but it’s his risk taking nature which will see the Theatre of Dreams adhere to him.
Steve McClaren, who worked alongside Lingard last season with Derby County, was eager for a reunion at Newcastle United this summer.
Van Gaal however was against the move and ensured Lingard that opportunities to impress were available. His decision to stay patient and work hard looks to be paying dividends.
Sir Alex Ferguson had high hopes for Lingard, who scored in the 2011 Youth Cup Final against Sheffield United, but it was the presence of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison in the same side which overshadowed Lingard’s rise to prominence.
Warren Joyce, United’s reserve team manager, has played a major role in nurturing Lingard alongside the likes of James Wilson, Andreas Pereira and Adnan Januzaj, all of whom will be eager to lead the next generation of stars at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal has shown that he is prepared to give youngsters a chance but Lingard only needs to look at the mixed fortunes of Adnan Januzaj to see how hard it is to maintain the standard and nail down a regular starting berth at the home of the 20-time league champions.
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