There was razzmatazz, a “Welcome to the Jungle” soundtrack and no fairytale for Wayne Rooney. Instead of a script with Manchester United’s record goalscorer haunting them for Derby, the visitors ruined the Rooney party and Odion Ighalo signalled he may have a future at Old Trafford beyond his temporary deal. As with the latter days of his 13-year United career Rooney was glimpsed only around the edges of a match that ended with his former side securing passage to a quarter-final at Norwich, and Ighalo the scorer of two goals to take his tally for the club to three.
“Another away draw,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjær. “We’re used to that now, seven in a row, we’ll have to do it [win the trophy] the hard way but we’ve got a chance.”
Victory took United to nine unbeaten. This time last year a run of one loss in 17 was ended by a defeat at Arsenal that precipitated a freefall of only two wins in the season’s final 12 games. The manager was asked why this would not happen again. “They’re fitter, have a better mentality [now], had a winter break, we’ve added a few signings, are injury-free, getting players back and the whole squad is ready to go,” he said. “I’ve got a big squad – I had don’t know how many hamstring injuries [last year] because we weren’t ready to do what we asked them to do.” Pride Park had a kind of heavy-metal start that matched the noise fans created. Victor Lindelöf made a simple error, handing the ball to Max Lowe and the left-back speared in a cross. At the other end Rooney’s opening contribution was to slide – blood-and-thunder style – into Scott McTominay, which drew raucous cheers.
The contest’s vibrancy was personified by Louie Sibley’s thrust forward and shot and, after Solskjær remonstrated with McTominay for loose play, United awoke. The effervescent Bruno Fernandes fed the excellent Luke Shaw along the left to earn a corner. Yet from this Derby broke via the lively Sibley and Shaw ended the footrace by upending him and earning a booking. The free-kick was in prime Rooney territory: his curled attempt circumvented the wall and required a diving Sergio Romero to steer wide.
Fernandes has become United’s driving force since joining in January so there was relief in the ranks when, after lying on the pitch following a clash with Craig Forsyth, the midfielder was able to continue.
United gained more control but still reached for the requisite slickness. Fernandes was a blur of runs, making demands on teammates to switch to his wavelength. Even when Juan Mata found Ighalo to force Kelle Roos to save, the pass was a rebound
All of this was forgotten when United took the lead. A Fernandes shot came back off Roos and Shaw drilled home, via the ground and possibly Jesse Lingard’s back, for his second United – and career – goal.
This had the jubilant travelling support singing “Que sera sera, we’re going to Wembley” and Derby’s mood was about to be punctured further. Shaw dazzled with dancing feet that took him into space before feeding Ighalo, and now came an expert finish: the centre-forward wriggling between two defenders then shooting past Roos for his second goal since his loan move