Manchester United’s Anthony Martial celebrates scoring his side’s second goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Substitute Anthony Martial secured Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s underwhelming side a comeback win against LASK on a night when Manchester United’s progress to the Europa League quarter-finals was never in doubt.
Five months on from hitting five without reply in Austria, the sides belatedly resumed battle at an empty Old Trafford with the outcome of the last-16 encounter all but certain.
LASK were far better than that strange night in March and Philipp Wiesinger’s stunner gave the fans back in Linz something to cheer about, but Jesse Lingard quickly levelled before Martial wrapped up a 2-1 win on the night and 7-1 triumph on aggregate.
A quarter-final clash with Copenhagen awaits in Cologne on Monday as attention turns to the final eight tournament in Germany, where Solskjaer will attempt to add silverware to this season’s third-placed league finish.
The United boss made nine changes from the 2-0 win at Leicester and few of those peripheral players called upon did themselves justice on Wednesday, particularly during a dire first half in which they did not manage a shot on target.
LASK, who have had a turbulent few months, had the better of the opening period and went ahead in the second half through Wiesinger’s beautiful curling effort.
But that lead was shortlived as Lingard fired his second in as many games, with substitute Martial tucking home his 23rd of the season late on after neat build-up play with Juan Mata.
The Spaniard grew into the game having uncharacteristically mistimed a cross to an open Odion Ighalo just four minutes in – a moment that set the tone in the first half.
Harry Maguire’s presence at corners was the biggest threat for the disjointed hosts, while LASK displayed hunger without the requisite quality in front of goal.
Andres Andrade saw a header hit the bar before Wiesinger lashed just wide in the 10th minute, while recalled Sergio Romero dealt with a Marko Raguz attempt later in the half.
The half-time whistle brought a welcome break to a dreadful match that could only improve after the break.
Four minutes into the second half – and moments after a firework echoed around the empty stands – Odion Ighalo wriggled free to get away United’s first effort on target.
Brandon Williams’ cross just evaded the stretching Lingard and Daniel James as Solskjaer’s side went in search of a goal that would instead come in some style at the other end.
After Timothy Fosu-Mensah turned a threatening cross behind his own goal, the corner was only cleared as far as Wiesinger and the defender hit a stunning curler from 25 yards that bent in the top right-hand corner.
Wiesinger went close to adding to that 55th minute wonder strike moments later – a missed opportunity United quickly capitalised on.
Mata met a misplaced ball with a lovely first-time pass that sent Lingard scampering through to slot past goalkeeper Alexander Schlager in the 57th minute.
Mata and Fosu-Mensah had attempts before Romero kept out a thumping Dominik Reiter strike from an acute angle as changes took the sting back out of the match.
Scott McTominay fizzed wide before Solskjaer handed a first-team debut to 18-year-old defender Teden Mengi, who came on at the same time as Martial.
The France forward was rested with the final tournament in mind and wrapped up victory two minutes from time. Neat build-up with Mata was followed by a shot that trickled over the line after Schlager failed to stop it.
Raguz saw an acrobatic effort thwarted before the final whistle.