MARCUS RASHFORD was the man of the hour as his extra-time winner sealed Manchester United’s spot in the Europa League semi-finals.
The Red Devils had chances galore during a tense game at Old Trafford, but it was England international Rashford who stepped up to the plate to put a big smile on Jose Mourinho’s face.
United started on the front foot and were quickly rewarded with an early opener from Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the ninth minute.
He was teed up outside the box by Rashford after the youngster was found by Paul Pogba’s terrific long pass and it all looked to be going Mourinho’s way.
Pogba himself went close with a header minutes later before Jesse Lingard saw a good chance go begging.
But Anderlecht started to turn up the heat and Frank Acheampong nearly levelled following a mistake from Eric Bailly.
United’s night took a turn for the worst when Marcos Rojo was forced off with an injury in the 22nd minute.
And the Belgians had their equaliser nearly ten minutes later when Youri Tielemans broke through the line to smash a scorcher against the crossbar.
The resulting scrum then saw the ball fall at the feet of Sofiane Hanni, who didn’t think twice before smashing it into the back of the net.
Luke Shaw led a late first-half charge with a bold run into the box but a shot on his weaker foot did little to threaten the visiting keeper.
Mkhitaryan also spurned a good chance before the whistle, but the late surge appeared to have an impact as United came out all guns firing in the second half.
Shaw made another darting run but his fine ball across the box failed to make contact with Lingard.
However, Anderlecht then started to see more of the ball, forcing Mourinho to bring on big man Marouane Fellaini.
The big man’s arrival changed the momentum of the game once again, with Rashford dragging a shot wide after cleverly shaking off his marker.
Rashford then found himself one-on-one following a mistake from Dennis Appiah, but the striker was forced wide by Anderlecht’s on-rushing goalie before Appiah made up for his error by winning the ball back.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic then finally fired off his first shot of the night with 20 minutes remaining before seeing a penalty claim correctly dismissed by the referee.
Pogba continued the running theme by hitting a point-blank tap-in miles over the bar before Ibrahimovic curved a shot so wide that it almost hit the corner flag.
Some stylish play from Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic saw Rashford sent through again but he could only find the outside netting as the minutes ticked down.
But Ibrahimovic picked up a nasty-looking injury following an awkward landing just as the final whistle blew, forcing him to come off for Anthony Martial.
And United came very close to scoring the goal of the season just minutes into extra time, with Pogba going close with a bicycle kick following a rabona cross from Rashford.
The world-record signing then thought he’d scored a winner but it was disallowed after Fellaini was pulled up harshly for a foul in the build-up.
Sergio Romero then spilled a shot from Tielemans before the whistle but managed to hold on to it, much to the relief of nervous fans.
But United finally got the breakthrough a minute into the second half of added time when Rashford took the ball down with a delicate touch before losing his marker and slotting home into the corner.
The mood around the stadium was lifted as a result and it became plain sailing for the men in the red, who will now discover their semi-final fate when the Europa League draw is made in Nyon on Friday.
FACTS, STATS, GOALS AND LOLS by Ken Lawrence
- THE MAUVES as Anderlecht go by in Belgium played in their first European quarter final in 20 years but trained earlier the day in the local Castlefield Park.
- SERGIO ROMERO was one of five changes from the weekend victory over Chelsea, joined by Luke Shaw, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Michael Carrick.
- MANCHESTER UNITED’S first – ever European tie was against Anderlecht 56 years ago as the Busby Babes won 10 -0 – the game played at Maine Road because of Old Trafford reconstruction.
- PAUL POGBA began the night as the Europa League’s highest passer with 664 and one of his first in the clash was the through ball that helped set up Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s 10th minute opener.
- DESPITE BEING beaten early by Henrikh Mkhitaryan Martinez Ruben was still in spectacular form – yet another goalkeeper having game of his life at Old Trafford this season.
- MARCUS ROJO’S injury mid – way through the first leg meant that Eric Bailly became Manchester United’s only fit senior centre back with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones already crocked.
- DALEY BLIND cannot have felt too great replacing Marcus Rojo – he got a blast from Jose Mourinho for not getting ready quick enough to play in a positon his manager doesn’t like him in.
- OLD TRAFFORD was rocked by Sofiane Hanni’s 32nd minute equaliser but Anderlecht love a goal – it was their 20th in Europe this season and 22nd in the last 23 games in all comps.
- LUKE SHAW blundered by falling five yards behind the rest of the United back line and playing Anderlecht on for Sofiane Hanni’s equaliser – no wonder Jose Mourinho’s face was a picture.
- NOTICE SOMETHING odd about Henrikh Mkhitaryan against Anderlecht? In these modern days of pink, orange and dazzling dayglow he set a new fashion – by wearing old – fashioned BLACK boots.
Man Utd next five fixtures
Burnley (A): 23 Apr – Prem
Man City (A): 27 Apr – Prem
Swansea (H): 30 Apr – Prem
Arsenal (A): 7 May – Prem
Tottenham (A): 14 May – Prem
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
Man Utd: Romero 8, Valencia 6, Bailly 6, Rojo 6 (Blind 7), Shaw 6, Carrick 7, Pogba 8, Lingard 6 (Fellaini 7), Mkhitaryan 9, Rashford 9, Ibrahimovic 6 (Martial 6)
Subs not used: De Gea, Rooney, Young, Herrera
Goals: Mkhitaryan 10’, Rashford 107’
Anderlecht: Martinez 7, Appiah 7, Kara Mbodji 7, Spajic 7, Obradovic 6, Tielemans 7, Dendoncker 6, Chipciu 6 (Bruno 6), Hanni 7 (Stanciu 5), Acheampong 6, Teodorczyk 6 (Thelin 5)
Subs not used: Deschacht, Nuytinck, Capel, Boeckx
Goal: Hanni 32’
Booked: Tielemans, Appiah
Star Man: Marcus Rashford
Matchwinner Marcus Rashford: “All you can do is keeping trying to create chances, that’s what we kept doing and we pinned them back.
“We had a lot of chances and could have scored but sometimes games go like that. We got one in the end.
“You just have to keep going and hope you get another chance. We’ve done it the hard way but none of that matters now.”