Anthony Martial put Manchester United’s bid for a top four finish back on track as the French forward ended his goal drought in Saturday’s crucial 2-0 victory against Wolves.
Martial had gone eight games without scoring before he netted in the first half at Old Trafford.
United’s first win in three matches was wrapped up by Alejandro Garnacho’s stoppage-time goal.
After successive defeats at Brighton and West Ham threatened to ruin their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, Erik ten Hag’s side restored order at Old Trafford.
Fourth-placed United, who sit behind Newcastle on goal difference, moved four points clear of Liverpool, who are fifth and play at struggling Leicester on Monday.
After that fixture, United will still have three matches left while Liverpool will have only two to play, leaving Ten Hag’s men in control of their top four destiny.
“Vital. We had to bounce back after big defeats. We had no energy and played slow in those games. Today we had to win and we did it,” Ten Hag said.
Critical of United’s finishing despite the win, Ten Hag added: “We are very good at making the opponents’ goalkeeper man of the match. We have to be more clinical.
“We have to work on better conversion. Every game is difficult. You have to be ready for every match.”
Former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was back at Old Trafford for the first time since being sacked in November 2021.
Solskjaer was all smiles as he took photos with fans before kick-off, but even the Norwegian’s most ardent fan had to acknowledge the impressive progress made under Ten Hag this season underlined the failings of his own troubled reign.
– Rashford sidelined –
Ten Hag made three changes as Marcus Rashford was sidelined by a leg injury, while Wout Weghorst and Tyrell Malacia dropped to the bench, with Martial, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane coming in.
United had scored only six times in their previous nine games, offering Liverpool renewed hope after six successive wins for Jurgen Klopp’s team.
Wolves went close to snatching a shock lead when Craig Dawson fired just wide after Pedro Neto pulled the ball back to the defender inside the United area.
But Bruno Fernandes’ free-kick forced a save from Wolves’ rookie keeper Daniel Bentley as United’s pressure gradually mounted.
The chances kept coming for United as Christian Eriksen whistled his strike just wide from long-range before Antony headed wastefully over from six yards.
Martial finally delivered in the 32nd minute as the French striker scored only his second league goal in 2023.
Fernandes’ pass triggered Antony’s incisive raid and when Bentley rashly came off his line the Brazilian unselfishly cut back to Martial, who finished with ease.
Martial could have doubled United’s lead before half-time but he shot straight at Bentley from Antony’s pass.
Wolves missed a good chance when Max Kilman headed a corner down to Hwang Hee-chan and the substitute screwed his shot wide from an acute angle.
Fernandes was unable to beat Bentley from close-range and the Wolves keeper made another good save to keep out Sancho’s effort.
Weghorst, still waiting for his first Premier League goal for United, headed over from six yards.
With seconds left, Garnacho sprinted onto Fernandes’ pass and finished with aplomb.