AFTER being described as spineless for so long — Marcus Rashford proved Manchester United’s youngsters have the backbone to bear the burden of post-Fergie expectation.
United marched home with the Academy Award after Scott McTominay, Brandon Williams, Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard outmanoeuvred Chelsea’s young scholars with a 2-1 win in the Carabao Cup.
Rashford, 21, bagged two goals — making it five in five — to set up a confidence-boosting win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side and a League Cup quarter-final.
But his winner will be compared with one famous Manchester United No7’s winner across London a decade ago.
Rashford stood over the ball for what felt like a lifetime before unleashing a knuckle-shot over the blue wall and into Willy Caballero’s net.
Some may call it a freak effort — but Solskjaer has been ushering Rashford towards set-piece opportunities for months despite his consistent failures.
It is something he is clearly able to do in training, but not in big games.
It was much the same in Cristiano Ronaldo’s early years before he became a freakish goal machine.
This dipping strike bore a striking resemblance to Ronnny’s at the Emirates in the 2009 Champions League semi-final.
That this was a League Cup tie in a half-empty Stamford Bridge shows how far the club’s expectations have slumped.
A more modern take is that Rashford’s upswing in form is a stirring response to Tammy Abraham’s fine start to the season.
Blues No9 Abaraham has nine goals to his name this term, but they have dried up since the international break, while his opposite number has rediscovered his swagger.
Strength of character means so much in football and the Wythenshawe wonder is crossing the threshold from teen sensation to mature attacker in front of our eyes.
His converted penalty — days after United’s Carrow Road comedy — was the sort of moment that he may have crumbled under just last season.
He can thank the battling instincts of fellow Carrington graduate McTominay — the sort of kid Fergie would have adored.
Scotland international McTominay, who turns 23 next month, has been United’s best player this season and is showing the coolness of mind that could see him in the Premier League team of the season by the end of May.
As for Rashford, continue like this and he could be Gareth Southgate’s star to light up Euro 2020.
Six goals for club and country needs to be at least doubled — and more — before June.
But slow, steady improvement tops wild peaks and troughs in form any day.
Just look at his Premier League goals and assists record this term with five strikes and three assists.
He is becoming more productive, adding stardust and winning respect.
The goals don’t ALL have to be worldies, though.