27 February 2020
Cometh the 34th minute, cometh Odion Ighalo with the goal for Man United that millions of Nigerian fans have been waiting for since Ighalo joined the Old Trafford sleeping giants in a shock loan move during the January transfer window.
Club Brugge were the opponents in the last 32 of the Europa Cup and they were a man and a goal down after Simon Deli had been sent off for handball and Bruno Fernandez converted the penalty.
Then Ighalo, who was looking lively in his first start for United, raced into the box, held off his marker and swept home a pass from Juan Mata. The screams in the “viewing centres” in the slums of Ajegunle in Lagos, where Ighalo grew up, must have matched what was on offer at Old Trafford.
Watch the highlights below.
Further goals from Scott McTominay and a late brace from Fred saw United progress to the quarterfinals 6-1 on aggregate.
But the night belonged to Ighalo who said after the game that scoring his first goal for the club he had supported as a boy “was a great moment, I’ve been waiting for this”. He added: “There was a little bit of pressure, but now I’ve got a goal to start my Man United career”. Scoring for United was “a big dream and realising the dream makes it better”.
He dedicated the goal to his sister who died in December last year.
The only other person who seemed happier than Ighalo for his goal and decent all round performance tonight was coach Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who had many United fans questioning his judgment in bringing in the Nigerian striker from China in January. Solksjaer said “as a fellow striker, I know how important the first goal is” and the centre-forward role was “ready made” for Ighalo and he is a “natural striker”, adding “I’m very happy for him”.
A former United player, Owen Hargreaves, working on the game for BT Sport, believed Ighalo will do well at Old Trafford as, unlike their other strikers, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, who tend to drift wide, the Nigerian “gives them a reference point” as a strong and powerful central striker, who can hold up the ball and has very good movement in the box.
The night could have been even better for Ighalo with two clear sighters at goal that were thwarted by Simon Mignolet in the Brugge goal. But even United’s biggest critic and former midfielder Paul Scholes admitted he saw more goals in Ighalo, especially with fellow January signing Bruno Fernandes providing the passes from midfield.