Early Hojlund double sees Manchester United work past Luton to extend winning run

Carlton Morris scored to bring Luton back into it but Erik Ten Hag’s side hang on for victory at Kenilworth Road

Premier League: Luton 1 Manchester United 2

The bottom line from a suitably intense, frayed and sometimes alarmingly open encounter is that the good news keeps coming for Manchester United. This was their fourth league win in a row and it offered the latest confirmation that, in Rasmus Højlund, they have found a striker worthy of the handsome investment paid to Atalanta last summer. When the Dane converted twice in the first seven minutes, becoming the youngest player to score in six successive Premier League games, United appeared to have laid the platform for a straightforward evening.

It is to Luton’s huge credit, and a reflection of the lessons Erik ten Hag’s side must still learn, that no such thing materialised. They hit back through Carlton Morris and such was their ambition and application thereafter that nobody could have complained if Ross Barkley’s header had looped in, rather than clipping the crossbar, for a sensational equaliser in the final minute of added time.

In making such a barnstorming start United must have thought that, at a venue where all of the top-flight’s giants have been given a dogfight, they might be the ones to emerge without a scratch. They pulled two goals clear through another exhibition of finishing prowess from Højlund, whose early struggles in English football are a fading memory.

Luton’s defending made a hefty contribution, too. When Casemiro belted an early clearance upfield there seemed little threat to Amari’i Bell, who was facing the Luton goal as the ball bounced up. What should have been a simple pass back to Thomas Kaminski became a horrible, scuffed piece of execution that the chasing Højlund anticipated adroitly. Faced with Kaminski, the Dane manoeuvred to the left and slotted into the vacant net.


Only 37 seconds had passed and United could start to enjoy themselves, a deflected Marcus Rashford shot quickly testing Kaminski. Luton’s trademark aggression was notable only by its absence and, when Morris’s clearing header from a corner looped out to an unattended Alejandro Garnacho, they were punished again. His 18-yard volley was slicing wide of the right upright until Højlund, showing admirable reactions, swivelled his upper body and diverted it across a wrong-footed Kaminski with his chest.

The home side had been wide open, perhaps jolted by a warm-up injury to their tone-setting centre-forward Elijah Adebayo. They could have been killed off when Rashford surged through the middle only to shoot wide when opportunity knocked to examine Kaminski again. But there had been signs, when Luton did work the ball upfield, that their left side might yet enjoy a profitable afternoon and they soon found a way back via that route.

It was Alfie Doughty, the indefatigable wing-back, who cut back intelligently for the former United youngster Tahith Chong to turn and shoot. Chong’s effort deflected up off Harry Maguire into the six-yard box where a stooping Morris nodded past André Onana’s star jump.

The tone had shifted dramatically. United do not always cope well with such changes in emphasis and, for the rest of the first half, were rocked by opponents who had discovered their bite and snarl. There was added grace in the midfield promptings of Barkley and Alfred Lokonga; raw speed, too, in a bursting Chiedozie Ogbene when he bought a booking for Luke Shaw.

Morris miscued another headed chance and then drove forward before shooting narrowly wide from 20 yards. Between those two openings, a sloppy Maguire pass had required Diogo Dalot to take evasive action before Cauley Woodrow, who had replaced Adebayo and was starting his first Premier League match since May 2014, could convert.

Doughty, bursting into the area but clipping wide, missed a presentable chance to equalise before the interval. United would go in feeling both bruised and fortunate: Shaw departed with an injury before the whistle while Casemiro, already booked, had been lucky to escape further punishment after a clumsy tackle on Barkley.

It was little surprise that neither Casemiro nor Maguire, who had received a yellow card of his own for felling Morris, appeared for the second half. Scott McTominay and Jonny Evans were asked to steady the ship but Luton continued to force the issue, a Doughty centre flying across goal during a spell of sustained pressure. The excellent Chong then tricked to the byline but could not locate a teammate. United quickly countered and Rashford forced a sharp stop from Kaminski after a solo run.

There were openings on offer for United if they rediscovered some composure. Bruno Fernandes found one on the hour but, after going past Kaminski, he was denied by a heroic recovering block from Lokonga. Six minutes later, an almost identical situation involving Garnacho saw a combination of Bell and Kaminski keep the game alive. United might have shaken off their earlier headlessness but they had spurned a couple of gifts.

Luton, who had not found the cutting edge to match their brisk approach play since half-time, smelled an equaliser when the ball fell to Gabriel Osho six yards out but the defender could not get a clean strike away. Almost immediately Kaminski, a formidable presence, superbly denied Højlund a hat-trick. It would have been a key moment if Barkley’s last-gasp header landed a few centimetres lower. - Guardian