Marcus Rashford scored his fourth goal in five games as Manchester United scores three times in 10 second-half minutes to beat Colchester United 3-0 in the EFL Cup quarter-finals.
After Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men put the Old Trafford faithful through a drab first half in which they failed to make 80 per cent of the possession count, Rashford broke the deadlock six minutes into the second period with a fine solo effort.
Rashford would have had a second five minutes later had Colchester’s Ryan Jackson not put through his own net, and the in-form forward then provided an assist for Anthony Martial to score his seventh goal of the season in all competitions.
The flurry of goals was no less than the Red Devils deserved for a fluid second-half display, with Colchester, who are ninth in League Two, made to pay for errors that had been absent in penalty shoot-out victories over Crystal Palace and Tottenham earlier in the competition.
Rashford sent a free-kick dipping wide from an acute angle early on, and Colchester goalkeeper Dean Gerken was then forced into a low reflex save when the England man’s cross was deflected goalwards by Brandon Comley.
Colchester defended with 11 players behind the ball for much of the first half and, in doing so, exposed Martial’s limitations as a target man, the France international’s presence largely nullified by the visitors’ packed, physical rearguard.
When Martial did receive the ball in space on the cusp of half-time, he hit a swerving shot from 20 yards that whistled narrowly wide of the top corner.
Jackson missed a one-on-one with Sergio Romero early in the second half whereafter Nemanja Matic immediately released Rashford, who burst through on goal, skipped across the penalty area, with Colchester defenders scrambling, and lashed the ball high into the net from 12 yards.
The second soon followed when Mason Greenwood’s dangerous cross from the right hit Jackson’s thigh and dropped into the net, with Rashford lurking.
The third was the pick of the bunch, Juan Mata sending a curling, weighted pass to Rashford’s feet in the box, where the forward crossed first time for Martial to bundle home.
The visitors improved in the final 20 minutes and two chances fell to striker Luke Norris, but the best he could muster was a shot into Romero’s midriff as the minnows’ fine run ended without a consolation goal.
What does it mean? Silverware in sight for Solskjaer
In a season that has at times been gruelling for Solskjaer, winning any trophy would feel represent significant success, and he will hope the likes of Rashford and Martial can maintain the sharpness they are showing in front of goal going into the semi-finals.
Rashford leads the line
On an evening when it took him a few fluffed chances to get his eye in, Rashford kept up his recent habit of turning games in Manchester United’s favour with an opening goal that oozed confidence.
Jackson goes from dangerous to bad
A matter of moments after he looked set to score a goal that would have been the crowning moment of his career, Colchester full-back Jackson could only watch as Rashford exploited the space he left vacant to score with ease.
Solskjaer takes his men to Watford on Sunday for a clash with the Premier League’s bottom club, giving United the chance to go seven top-flight games unbeaten. Colchester are at home to Carlisle United in League Two on Saturday.