By Ian Parker, PA
Erik ten Hag is expecting even better from Jadon Sancho after the forward’s first goal since September helped Manchester United recover from 2-0 down to draw with Leeds at Old Trafford.
Leeds scored early in either half, first through Wilfried Gnonto just 55 seconds in, then Raphael Varane’s own goal three minutes into the second period of the Premier League clash.
But after Ten Hag sent on Sancho and Facundo Pellistri just before the hour to change the shape of his attack, it brought instant dividends.
First Pellistri played his role in a move finished by Marcus Rashford – shifted to the centre in the reshuffle – before Sancho made it 2-2.
It was Sancho’s first goal since the Europa League win over Sheriff Tiraspol on September 15, but the 22-year-old has been out of the first-team picture since a drop in form cost him the opportunity of a World Cup place, and only returned last week for his first appearance since October.
“I am really happy he is in the right direction,” Ten Hag said. “I hope he can keep this momentum going and I am sure it will strengthen him and motivate him to do even more.
“As you can see he is a brilliant footballer and if he can invest in the right levels he can be outstanding.
“I think we now have a team that can dictate a game, can play more in the opponent’s half. He likes that, he can play in tight areas, he can make the difference. The second goal shows it.”
After being left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad, Sancho spent time training alone in the Netherlands in December and was then gradually reintegrated after returning to Manchester just before the turn of the year.
Ten Hag now hopes any such issues are in the past.
“It is in his own hands and so if he wants, he can do it,” he said. “This team, it is great to play in, it gives you joy. I really enjoy see him playing the way he did with so much confidence, the way he did with so much belief.”
Sancho’s goal brought relief to Old Trafford as United had faced the prospect of a first top-flight home defeat to their old rivals since 1981.
NEVER give up! Unfortunately, we didn't get the win but we fought back to get a draw. pic.twitter.com/E9TxEgN79y
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) February 8, 2023
But these were still two points dropped for Champions League-chasing United as Leeds arrived in Manchester without a manager following the sacking of Jesse Marsch.
“Mixed feelings,” Ten Hag said. “If you are 2-0 down, you have to be disappointed…If you start each half the way we did, it is unacceptable.
“You concede two goals, it is really frustrating and unacceptable, but I have to make compliments to the team, the way they are resilient, they fight back, create chances and also finish. We scored two really good goals.”
The two sides will meet again in the reverse fixture at Elland Road on Sunday, but it remains to be seen whether or not caretaker manager Michael Skubala will still be in charge.
Leeds’ managerial search has already taken longer than chair Andrea Radrizzani had indicated.
But for now the regular under-21s boss could reflect on a strong showing at Old Trafford.
“I’m really proud of the players,” he said. “I thought they did really well.
“In the context, (Man United) haven’t lost in 13 in all competitions (at home). I’m a bit disappointed because I thought we did enough to win the game but it was really good.
“Without giving too much away because we’ve got another game against them on Sunday, (the plan was) not to be passive, to be aggressive, to be free and attack them.
“The most rewarding part is how in the last moments we saw out the game. At the end we had to dig deep and show personality to get the point.”