Updated at 5:25 p.m. ET
Updated at 5:25 p.m. ET
Whether it’s playing the opposition off the park or delivering the key decisions at the vital moment, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot seem to do any wrong right now.
This wasn’t a vibrant attacking performance full of goals and showreel highlights like the trio which had preceded it, but Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Wednesday night gave further proof that Solskjaer has injected something new into his side’s make-up.
In throwing on players as talented as Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez for the final half-hour, the United caretaker manager must have known there was half a chance his substitutes would deliver.
But the former Everton man’s immediate opener, and then the involvement of both replacements in Marcus Rashford’s clinching second, would have delighted the man who made his name as a super-sub during his 11-year playing spell at Old Trafford.
In the first half, there was nowhere near as much of the sharpness or intensity of their three previous performances on display, with the occasional opportunity at one end often being offset by one calamity or another at the other.
And while United initially headed out after the break with a little more vigour, it was soon the home side ramping up the pressure once more as Christian Atsu continued to cause problems for Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof.
With Newcastle set up in their familiar tight block, this was always likely to be Solskjaer’s toughest test yet and so it played out for much of the first hour. But when it came to him having to make a tactical switch, the Norwegian was in the most privileged position in his four-game reign.
Having brought Lukaku off the bench again Bournemouth on Sunday, this time he had both the Belgian and Alexis Sanchez to call upon. And when he threw the pair into the action in the 63rd minute, Lukaku repaid him immediately with the kind of impact Solskjaer himself would have been proud of.
Rashford’s dipping free-kick caused trouble for Martin Dubravka, and Lukaku was on hand to sweep home the loose ball with his first touch of the game only 38 seconds after his arrival.
Just as there had been a feeling beginning to grow that Solskjaer’s magic was about to be truly tested, the goal simply sparked even louder and more raucous renditions of the numerous songs featuring the former striker’s name.
It was an inevitability that United would get opportunities on the counter as Newcastle searched for an opening, and after Lukaku made progress down the right, Sanchez took his fellow sub’s pass and played a delightful ball to the unmarked Rashford to slide home their second.
United found a way to win, which in many ways had been the hallmark of what little progress they made under Jose Mourinho earlier in the season, but it was done in a very different way.
There was no Marouane Fellaini and no resorting to long, aimless balls. Instead, they stuck by the principals which Solskjaer has been so keen to promote and picked off Newcastle when the chances came.
The same caveat remains after this victory in that United have still to face a top-half team since the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool which spelt the end of Mourinho, but this was as big a statement as the 5-1 mauling of Cardiff in its own way.
Solskjaer not only got the clean sheet he was so desperate for, but he also got his players to show their guts when necessary while also retaining a coolness about their attacking approach.
It will also be a boost to see that Chelsea dropped points as United begin the long haul that is regaining an involvement in top-four talk.
Four games, four wins, 14 goals, finally a clean sheet, and Solskjaer showing he still has the special touch when it comes to substitutions.
So far, so good.