Goalless and wilting... Sheffield United robbed of their rhythm as Anthony Martial runs riot for Man Utd

At the bottom of the Stretford End, which is usually swarming with over 14,000 people, a banner was draped across one block of empty red seats.

Wednesday, 24th June 2020, 11:38 pm

“Football is nothing without fans,” it read, quoting the late, great Sir Matt Busby, who ruled over this stadium for nearly a quarter-of-a-century. Few would care to argue. Least of all Sheffield United, as ‘Project Restart’ continues to prove a dispiriting experience.

On a sweltering hot evening, inside an empty Old Trafford, where every word the players uttered was clearly audible, an Anthony Martial hat-trick condemned Chris Wilder’s side to their second 3-0 defeat in as many outings.

Of even greater concern to the United manager, however, will be the fact his squad remains without a goal since competition resumed following the Covid-19 pandemic. Now eighth in the Premier League table, the three month break appears to have robbed them of the rhythm, swagger and sheer joie-de-vivre which previously made them such a dangerous proposition for even the division’s most powerful clubs.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manager of Manchester United with Chris Wilder, Manager of Sheffield United after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Sheffield United at Old Trafford . (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Bizarrely, United had actually looked the more dangerous of the two sides until the hosts’ ability on the counter attack paid dividends in the seventh minute. More enterprising and focused than during either last week’s draw at Aston Villa or Sunday’s loss to Newcastle, United tested Manchester United’s mettle on several occasions before eventually falling behind when Martial reacted quicker to Marcus Rashford’s cross than Chris Basham.

Deputising for the ineligible Dean Henderson, Simon Moore should have been picking the ball out of the back of his net again soon after when Martial turned provider for Rashford, only for the England striker to inexplicably shoot wide from point blank range.

Although Manchester United continued to probe a rearguard also missing Jack O’Connell and John Egan, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men did not have things entirely their own way - despite David de Gea remaining untroubled between the posts until substitute Oli McBurnie tried his luck from range in the 83rd minute.

The only trouble was, Martial had already pounced for the second and third time by then - converting Aaron Wann-Bissaka’s cross seconds before the interval and then, with 16 minutes remaining, applying the finishing touches to an intricate move crafted by Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.

Manchester United: De Gea, Lindelof, Maguire, Pogba (Pereira 80), Martial (Ighalo 80), Rashford (James 80), Fernandes (McTominay 80), Shaw, Greenwood (Mata 80), Wan-Bissaka, Matic. Not used: Romero, Bailey, Fred, Williams.

Sheffield United: Moore, Baldock, Stevens, Robinson, Jagielka, Basham, Norwood (Berge 46), Fleck, Lundstram, McGoldrick (Zivkovic 65), Mousset (McBurnie 46). Not used: Verrips, L Freeman, Sharp, K Freeman, Osborn, Rodwell.

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

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