Two games, two wins. Six points, eight goals. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may only be at Manchester United as an emergency caretaker, but it seems to be working. Perhaps happiness is the most important tactic of them all.
And If United’s hierarchy were hoping for a lift in the mood at Old Trafford, then Solskjaer took care of that before the game had even kicked off. As he skipped from the tunnel to the dugout he waved and grinned like ... well, like somebody handed his dream job entirely out of the blue. He even embraced Fred the Red like a long-lost brother.
Fortunately for him and United, the mood persisted beyond the opening whistle. The home side were dominant for much of the first half, passing and moving with pace and purpose. Much of the play came down United’s left, as Juan Mata and Paul Pogba sought to tip and tap their way through the well-organised, deep-sitting Huddersfield defence, while Marcus Rashford buzzed between the box and the wing.
It was both encouraging and interesting to watch, but when United’s opening goal came, it was thanks to a corner rather than any grand invention. Victor Lindelof stole the initiative at the front post and directed a header — or perhaps a shoulderer — towards goal. Jonas Lossl could only palm the ball across the six-yard box and Nemanja Matic couldn’t miss from a yard.
In amongst all the pressure and half-chances, United’s best shot at a second came thanks to Marcus Rashford and Diego Dalot, one doing fine work on the wing and the other lining up a clear shot on goal from just a few yards. Sadly, from United’s point of view, they were the wrong way round: after Rashford nutmegged a defender and fired in a booming cross with his left foot, Dalot, who had muscled in front of his marker. couldn’t quite control his finish.
However, all United’s positive play was bracketed by two excellent Huddersfield chances. After nine minutes, Terence Kongolo fired over from inside the six-yard box, after United failed to track runners from a long throw. And as injury timed ticked away, Phil Billing dragged a shot from close range into the side netting, ignoring his better-placed colleague at the far post.
Had either goal gone in, the mood might quickly have curdled. But thanks to Huddersfield’s profligacy, they stood as signs. Either Solskjaer’s United are going to have to tighten up, or they’re going to have to make sure they score more than once.
Further such omens appeared early in the second half, as Huddersfield came out with the firm intention of ruining everybody’s day, and bossed the first five minutes. Solskjaer and his team responded by withdrawing Fred and Dalot before an hour was up, sending on Ander Herrera and Ashley Young to add a little grizzled maturity to proceedings.
The warnings grew louder just after the hour, as Laurent Depoitre met a cute corner on the edge of the area, and forced David de Gea into a sprawling, clawing, really quite excellent save. And finally, United listened. Rashford and Mata combined down the right, and the little Spaniard, after dancing around two challenges, rolled the ball back to Ander Herrera. He shuffled it on to Pogba, who clipped home via the base of the post, then celebrated with a dab.
Many miles from Old Trafford, Graeme Souness’ brandy cream went sour.
That knocked the fight out of Huddersfield, and another Pogba goal killed the game. First he swiped the ball left to Jesse Lingard, and then, when the Englishman returned it, he slapped it into the bottom left corner of the net from 20 yards. Brandy cream all over the place.
With United leading comfortably, Solskjaer treated the crowd to a Christmas gift: ten minutes of Angel Gomes, one of the next next big things from United’s academy. Gomes’ first touch was an attempted back heel to Pogba and, while it didn’t work, it rather neatly summed up the mood. Talented players, given the platform to try interesting things. Could get used to that.
There was just enough time for one more warning, in the shape of a consolation goal. A deep free-kick, a header comfortably won, and a total failure to track the runners for the second ball. Better teams than Huddersfield will be, well, better. But for now, ole!