Ighalo is proving the doubters wrong and Solskjaer right
Manchester United were ridiculed for signing Odion Ighalo but striker is now proving the doubters wrong and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer right after scoring another vital goal against Norwich
- Odion Ighalo joined on an initial six-month loan from Shanghai Shenhua in Jan
- Ighalo has impressed with his work ethic and eye for goal since his arrival
- Ighalo’s loan has been extended until January 2021 after impressive displays
- The striker scored a swivelled effort against Norwich to help United to victory
When his moment arrived, Odion Ighalo did what he does best. He scored. He twisted his body, kept his eye on the ball as it dropped in front of him and found the back of the net with a flick of his right boot.
It was a spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment finish, the kind all good goal poachers produce every now and then. A little unconventional perhaps and different to his last goal for Manchester United, the stunning volley against LASK Linz in March. But the end result was the same.
Up to that point in the 51st minute at Carrow Road, Ighalo had offered very little. But when Juan Mata diverted Luke Shaw’s cross into the air, the Nigerian took his chance.
Man United were mocked for signing Odion Ighalo but he scored another vital goal at Norwich
Ighalo’s spontaneous strike against Norwich helped United into the FA Cup semi-finals
The striker’s experience and predatory instincts have given United more options in attack
‘He’s got one eye on the ball. Probably one eye is on the keeper and the defender coming to smash him, so well done,’ said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who will appreciate the predatory instinct more than most.
This was Ighalo’s fourth start for United and he has scored every time, including two in the last round of the FA Cup at Derby County.
There is more to his game than goals. After Todd Cantwell had fired Norwich level at 1-1, it was Ighalo who got away from Timm Klose at the end of normal time, forcing the defender to haul him down and take the red card that swung this quarter-final firmly in United’s favour. Until then, it had been a lot closer than anyone expected.
Then, with two minutes left of extra-time, it was Ighalo’s run into the box that invited a clever pass from Paul Pogba. Ighalo turned the ball inside for Anthony Martial to cause confusion in the Norwich defence, and captain Harry Maguire swept United into a record 30th FA Cup semi-final, where they will face Chelsea at Wembley.
At that point, they were minutes away from a penalty shootout against a goalkeeper, Tim Krul, who saved two spot-kicks when the clubs met on the same ground in October, and had performed admirably to thwart them on this occasion, too.
United lacked fluency but Harry Maguire’s extra-time goal secured a narrow victory
Ighalo’s performances have shown why Solskjaer (right) wanted to sign him on loan from Shanghai Shenhua before transfer deadline in January.
It felt like a peculiar move at the time. ‘The Ighalo signing was almost laughed at, so fair play to him,’ said Jermaine Jenas on Match of the Day commentary.
In the studio, Ian Wright described it as a ‘strange one’.
FACT BOX TITLE
Norwich City (4-2-3-1): Krul 8; Aarons 7, Godfrey 6, Klose 5, Lewis 7 (Idah 118min); McLean 6, Tettey 6.5; Rupp 6 (Hernandez 62, 6.5), Cantwell 7 (Trybull 90, 6), Buendia 6 (Duda 90, 6); Pukki 4.5 (Drmic 71, 6).
Subs not used: Vrancic, Leitner, Stiepermann, McGovern. Scorer: Cantwell 75.
Booked: None. Sent off: Klose. Manager: Daniel Farke 7.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Romero 6; Dalot 5.5 (Williams 63, 6), Maguire 7.5, Bailly 6 (Martial 96, 7), Shaw 6.5; McTominay 5 (Matic 78, 6), Fred 5 (Pogba 78, 6.5), Mata 5 (Greenwood 63, 6), Fernandes 6, Lingard 5.5 (Rashford 63, 5); Ighalo 7.
Subs not used: De Gea, Pereira, Fosu-Mensah. Scorers: Ighalo 51, Maguire 118. Booked: Fernandes. Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 6.5.
Referee: Jon Moss 7.
At 31, Ighalo does not fit the mould of the young British player United are trying to recruit. When he arrived in February, he had spent three years playing in China since leaving Watford, and his £300,000-a-week wages (United contribute £130,000) plus loan fee meant he did not come cheap, either.
Then there was the coronavirus quarantine period that stopped him training at Carrington for two weeks or going on a warm-weather camp to Marbella.
More than half of Ighalo’s four-month loan was lost to lockdown, but United still negotiated with Shanghai to extend it until the end of January.
‘It was important for me and we worked hard to do it,’ said Solskjaer. ‘Odion knows how much we value him in the dressing room and on the pitch. He’s a goal scorer and a poacher.
‘We can play the ball into him like we did for the winning goal when Paul found him. He’s performing well but he also gives me the chance to rotate.’
Solskjaer made eight changes followed by six substitutions — a first for English football in the first FA Cup tie to be played in June.
United lacked fluency but did just enough to extend their unbeaten run to 14 games and maintain a record of winning away in every round, having conceded for the first time in the competition this season when Cantwell beat Sergio Romero from 25 yards.
‘It’s disappointing to score a goal that means so much personally, and have it taken away with three minutes to go,’ said Cantwell.
Solskjaer will revert to a stronger line-up at Brighton tomorrow, while Norwich will rejoin an increasingly futile battle against relegation at Arsenal on Wednesday.
‘I believe if we play like this, we’ll give them a right good game,’ said Cantwell. ‘It’s getting to crunch time. This team will stick together and fight and hopefully we can pull it out in the last couple of games.
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