Marcus Rashford’s injury-time strike ended Bournemouth’s unbeaten home record in the Premier League as Manchester United came back to record a second consecutive victory that will come as a great relief to their manager. José Mourinho had predicted before the match that United could still force their way into top-four contention this season if they were to string together a run of positive results between now and Christmas. But even if they rode their luck at times against a free-flowing Bournemouth side that had taken an early lead through Callum Wilson, Anthony Martial’s fifth goal in as many games and Rashford’s intervention off the bench were enough to secure the points.
In the absence of Romelu Lukaku, who picked up an injury in training on Friday, Mourinho handed Alexis Sánchez his first Premier League start since the draw against Wolves six weeks ago and left Rashford on the bench in the week the England striker celebrated his 21st birthday. Yet if the United manager was hoping that making only one change from the side that defeated Everton last week would result in a quick start he was to be sorely disappointed.
The lapse of concentration from Chris Smalling that allowed Ryan Fraser through on goal in the fourth minute, only for the Scotland international to fluff his lines after a poor second touch, was the precursor of things to come in a calamitous opening spell for the visitors that saw them deservedly fall a goal behind.
Three times in a 60-second spell, Bournemouth carved open United’s defence before finally making the breakthrough when Wilson tapped home a cross from Junior Stanislas after a brilliant reverse pass from Lewis Cook. The former Coventry striker now has 50 goals for Bournemouth since moving to the south coast in 2014 and was a constant threat throughout the first half, combining well with David Brooks – a boyhood United fan – and the impressive Stanislas, who was making his first league start of the season after injury.
By contrast, United looked lethargic in attack until midway through the half when Sánchez started to make his presence felt. It was the Chile international’s persistence that created the equaliser as he won the ball in the centre circle before linking up with Ashley Young on the right to lay the ball on a plate for Martial. An impressive leap to beat Nathan Aké to a header almost resulted in United going in ahead at the break, only for Juan Mata to screw his shot wide of the goal.
But Bournemouth, who had accumulated 11 points from their five previous home matches this season, refused to lie down and would have retaken the lead had it not been for two important saves from David de Gea. The second stop, five minutes into the second half, was an outstanding reaction to a clever flick from Brooks after Fraser had left Young for dead and picked out his teammate perfectly in front of goal.
At the other end, Luke Shaw tested Asmir Begovic but Mourinho had clearly seen enough and threw on Rashford and Ander Herrera in place of Mata and the ineffective Fred. The switch seemed to have the desired effect as United started to dominate possession, with Sánchez drawing a good save from Begovic before Herrera slammed a shot just wide of the post.
Yet a miraculous goal-line block by the outstanding Aké from Rashford’s shot after Young’s free-kick hit the woodwork hinted that it might not be United’s day. Paul Pogba had also failed to convert the rebound, with Brooks clearing off the line for a second occasion, and when Herrera curled another effort wide of the target it seemed their chance of victory may have evaporated.
A brilliant flowing move started and finished by Brooks could have made it even worse for United but once more De Gea was equal to his shot. It was to prove crucial as Rashford pounced on a rare mistake from Aké to slam home the winner.