Odion Ighalo has the last laugh after the first goal of Manchester United – his time to shine is now
Who is laughing now? After much grin and giggling, Odion Ighalo led Manchester United to a big win over Club Brugge … and possibly having Anthony Martial injured, his time to shine may have just arrived
- Odion Ighalo marked his first Manchester United start with a goal in Old Trafford
- After signing for the club, Ighalo dominated social media more than the Brexit
- Many unsubscribed him before he arrived due to his exit to Chinese football
- Now, with Anthony Martial injured, Ighalo has a chance to shine at United
Nobody is laughing at Odion Ighalo now. The ‘joke’ figure whose deadline-day signature for Manchester United from China led to more social media traffic than Brexit Day celebrated its first start on Thursday evening with its first goal.
While the whole of Old Trafford and Nigeria celebrated the first player from that country to score for United, the 30-year-old lifted his red shirt to display a photo of his sister Mary Atole who died in December.
He may not have the natural ability of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial, both injured during the Europa League Thursday night against Belgian league leaders Bruges, but no striker ever showed more willingness to run for the cause.
Odion Ighalo marked his first Manchester United start with a goal in Old Trafford
The attacker was seen as a ‘joke’, but has made a resolute start to his United career
To put the Ighalo story in the right context, remember that the former Watford striker was out of the Premier League radar less than a month ago and played for Shanghai Shenhua in China.
There was a lot of grin and giggling when United, shortly in the front, announced that their new signature was being rejected in attempts to sign Josh King from Bournemouth. After all, Ighalo’s last goal in English football was in September 2016, for The Hornets against West Ham.
After three cameo appearances as a replacement and building up his fitness with taekwondo sessions, this was his true fulfillment of a boy’s dream to play for United in a big European evening in Old Trafford.
Ighalo arrived at the back post which precision movement to drag the ball past Simon Mignolet
Martial’s injury during training on Wednesday had given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer little choice, but to give his unlikely signing the chance to become United’s main center defender, a role played in the past by a long line of greats from Tommy Taylor to Wayne Rooney
United was 1-1 right in Belgium last week and Ighalo’s energy was perfect for the quick start that Solskjaer wanted in the second leg.
Sometimes his movement seemed too hectic for his teammates – Bruno Fernandes opted to shoot instead of passing him on in one attack.
But Ighalo also showed that he is more comfortable in holding the ball up with his back to goal and linking play than Martial. United held his power for the move that changed the game after 22 minutes.
Daniel James’s shot was blocked by the left wrist of Bruges defender Simon Deli, who was eliminated when Fernandes sent the penalty after a VAR delay to put United ahead.
The Nigerian was largely written off after he had chosen to move to the Chinese Super League
Anthony Martial (pictured yesterday in training) is injured, which means Ighalo has a chance
Ighalo, who was also happy to challenge former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet in the air, had his big moment after 34 minutes.
Juan Mata turned Fernandes’ crotch back over the area for the first time, and Ighalo finished like a fox in the box and tumbled as he stabbed a six-meter right-hand finish home.
Ighalo lifted his United shirt in dedication to his brother and sister and was able to relax United’s support, knowing that a place in the final-16 was virtually safe.
Scott McTominay added a United third before the break and Ighalo’s growing self-confidence was underlined by a sharp turn and shot well saved by Mignolet, both players unaware of the offside flag.
With the score won, the second half was predictably played slower. Ighalo deserved to get out of the top gear after having put so much effort into the opening 45 minutes.
Nevertheless, he was not far from adding his second goal from the evening, snooping around the six-yard box when the cross of Tahith Chong was playing. Solskjaer, himself a remarkable goal scorer, will appreciate the positions that Ighalo has taken.
Now back in English football, the former Watford man has vowed to leave his mark
When Mason Greenwood received the last change from United after 71 minutes, it was McTominay instead of Ighalo who made place and confirmed that the Nigerian would play the full 90 minutes, all central. Fred added late fourth and fifth goals for United.
It is uncertain how long Martial will be out, although United hopes not long and he could reach Everton on Sunday. Nevertheless, Ighalo’s promising start to his career at Old Trafford may prove to be more important than Twitter users thought on January 31.