Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's derby win a platform to build at Manchester United - Reporter Notebook
By James Cooper, Sky Sports News North-West Reporter
Last Updated: 09/12/19 8:37pm
It's the time of year when whatever age you are you start reflecting on the past, present and future.
Suddenly for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the here and now and the days to come are tinged with a bit of festive cheer after the best week of his fully-fledged career as Manchester United manager.
And in keeping with the Christmas theme, where best to find some perspective and context to how important the win at the Etihad was, than to turn the clock back 30 years to a time when the man Solskjaer still calls 'the gaffer' needed a Mark Robins goal at Nottingham Forest to provide the foundations for a dynasty.
Derby triumph mirrors Forest win
Now, I'm not saying the dramatic victory in Manchester's blue corner will pave the way for a conveyor belt of 38 trophies in the next 26 years, but the manner of the win was as unexpected as that FA Cup triumph back in 1990. Nottingham Forest were in form and expected to beat a United side who were toiling under Alex Ferguson. Time was running out for the man brought down from Scotland to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.
There have been murmurs in recent weeks among the United faithful about Solskjaer's future, but back then it was a time for banners with supporters making clear their growing impatience following a barren three years of transition. Christmas was pretty much cancelled thanks to an eight-game winless run.
But Robins' goal in the 56th minute of the third-round tie at the City Ground lifted the gloom, eased the pressure and provided Ferguson with the breathing space to rescue a season that ended with an FA Cup and a 13th-place finish, with goal difference lifting his team above their Manchester neighbours in the old First Division.
Three decades ago there was no such thing as a transfer window, but that's the next priority for Solskjaer. A chance to bolster his squad and improve its quality. It doesn't automatically mean he'll be able to bring in the players he wants in January, but he'll certainly have all the backing he needs to try to do some business.
Forest also hold a prominent place in shaping the philosophy of the current United boss, especially when it comes to rotating players or making big changes unexpectedly. There was a suggestion Anthony Martial was not going to be fit enough to start the derby, but after Mason Greenwood's tireless display against Tottenham that was not considered to be too much of an issue.
Come kick-off, Martial started and Greenwood returned to the bench, a decision that was rewarded with United's second goal. The quality of his finish was a welcome reminder of how good a player he can be. But as Solskjaer said last week, football can be ruthless. Solskjaer scored four goals in 10 minutes coming on as a substitute in an 8-1 win at Forest in 1999, but found himself back on the bench for the next league match against Arsenal.
Rashford growing in confidence
What United have right now is belief and confidence. No player typifies that more than Marcus Rashford. His 12 goals in 13 games for club and country point to a growing maturity which goes alongside a realisation that, as well as his academy upbringing, he has the tools to be the talisman of this team.
His nerveless penalty was a deserved reward for United's ambition from the off, but his sublime chip, that Ederson had given up on, emphasised just how much talent is lurking within what's become a strong and powerful frame.
Jose Mourinho was keen to tell everyone that this is a United team that's more suited to the big games and whether there was some effort to win some reflected praise in those remarks, the performances against Spurs and City were huge improvements on what came before in the draws with Sheffield United and Aston Villa. The challenge now is to establish an impressive run after securing their first back-to-back Premier League wins since March!
Consistency is now the key with three home games beckoning in three different competitions. United find themselves five points off Chelsea in fourth and with Colchester standing between themselves and a place in the semi-finals of the League Cup. Clean sheets are still a challenge with just two in the Premier League so far and the manner of the goals conceded against Spurs and City highlight that some of the defensive jitters still remain.
But for now, after a slog of a season so far, there are reasons to be cheerful. Scott McTominay's return has breathed new life and energy into a midfield that Fred is starting to enjoy being a part of and Daniel James' pace and character is pushing good defenders into uncomfortable areas.
Luke Shaw's selection at full-back caused some surprise, but his performance justified his manager's faith in him and David De Gea's delighted expression as he strode out of the Etihad was a marked contrast to the weary and fed up player I'd encountered at Carrington only last week.
Ferguson is most famously associated with the good times at United and establishing standards and success that few can rival, but even he might have reflected fondly on a derby win that perhaps gives Solskjaer the opportunity to create something that lasts.
How to follow the January transfer window
Sky Sports will bring you the very latest news from the January transfer market with the return of three shows.
Start your day with Good Morning Transfers at 9am as our team of reporters bring you the latest news and insight. Transfer Talk then follows at midday delivering analysis of the biggest stories. Then join us at 7pm for the definitive round-up of the day's news with The Transfer Show.
Meanwhile, the Transfer Talk podcast will also be back at the turn of the year with more expert analysis from here and across the continent.
And as well as tuning into Sky Sports News, don't miss a thing with our dedicated Transfer Centre blog.