Last Tuesday night’s 2-4 victory at Watford was a special occasion for several reasons. Ashley Young’s remarkable brace set Manchester United on their way to a first away victory in a month (at the time), but even our makeshift left back’s contribution was given a run for its money as the evening’s highlight after Jesse Lingard added to his burgeoning highlight reel with a mazy run and finish to seal three points late on. That performance was enough to earn him a place in the team to face Arsenal this past weekend, and he duly obliged with his first brace for the club as United ran out deserved 1-3 winners in North London.
Jesse Lingard has provided United fans with a constant source of conversation since his emergence into the first team set-up in the last three seasons. Having seemingly been an ever-present on pre-season tours before being loaned out to a series of Championship sides for several years, it wasn’t until Louis van Gaal’s second campaign in charge in 2015/16 that the Warrington-born lad finally forced his way into the first team set-up. Whilst he’s surrounded by a plethora of young, talented forwards whose profiles eclipse his own, Lingard has become a trusted figure for both the Dutchman and his predecessor, Jose Mourinho.
A large part of the fan debate surrounding him seems to chiefly revolve around the fact that Lingard doesn’t have the consistency or quality of some of his colleagues, whilst extra consideration needs to be taken for the fact that his youthful, dab-infused celebrations tend to rub some folks up the wrong way. It’s true that Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford could be regarded as a level or two above him in the skill department, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that Lingard has worked remarkably hard to earn a spot in this United squad; with six goals notched so far this season, he’s one measly strike away from having his most productive season at the club, and he’ll surely get that soon, on this form. He’s living the dream, playing for the team that he supported as a child and has offered a big contribution to the club’s success in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years. Also, he has a habit of scoring wonderful goals, so let’s have a good look at that, shall we?
5 – First senior goal v West Brom, 07/11/2015
Not his most impressive strike, sure, but it’s worth noting that the quality of Lingard’s best goals in a United shirt is insanely high. Not only that, there’s an element of majesty in scoring your first goal for the club in front of the Stretford End that is impossible to ignore. United, as was the theme for this season, were struggling to break Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion side until a clearance landed at Lingard’s feet outside of the penalty area. His first touch left the ball bouncing; his second resulted in a curling strike that Boaz Myhill couldn’t get near. A lovely way to open his senior account for his boyhood club.
4 – Thunderbolt at the Riverside v Middlesbrough, 19/03/2017
This entry owes a lot to Middlesbrough’s defence seemingly being unwilling to get anywhere near Lingard as he advanced on goal with the ball at his feet. Presumably, the defence expected him to play the advancing Juan Mata through, and to be fair, most onlookers expected the same. They certainly didn’t anticipate that he’d unleash a thunderbolt into former United ‘keeper Victor Valdes’ top corner with the Spaniard left stranded, feet tied to the ground looking like a prized melon. The Pied Piper celebration that followed provoked plenty of grumbles afterwards, but when you’re striking a football that well, frankly, who cares?
3 – Spinning at the Bridge v Chelsea, 07/02/2016
I’m still not quite sure how he scored this one. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson’s low cross in front of the away end at Stamford Bridge had some of its bite taken off it by Wayne Rooney’s touch, but it also diverted the ball behind Lingard in the penalty area. He slowed it down, and with his back to goal, somehow managed to swivel around and smash the ball beyond Thibault Courtois on the half-volley whilst simultaneously falling down. As pieces of individual skill go, this was sublime.
2 – He’ll do your whole team v Watford, 28/11/2017
One of Lingard’s most timely strikes, and the most recent on this list. United had been coasting at Vicarage Road against Watford last week, and had seen a three goal lead deservedly slashed to one by the home side. An equaliser seemed inevitable, given a lethargic second half display by Mourinho’s side, until Jesse Lingard grabbed the ball in his own half and proceeded to commit what could best be described as an absolute madness.
The run, control and execution was perfect, with a retreating Watford defence surrounding him. With four opposition players for company in front of goal, Lingard eluded Adrian Mariappa’s challenge, sent Christian Kabasele spinning and fired a lovely shot beyond Heurelho Gomes. And to think, I spent at least several seconds of this majesty imploring him to slip a well-placed Romelu Lukaku in for what looked excellent chance, but the England international simply didn’t need him. The finish might not have been as extravagant, but this goal deserves to keep company with Ryan Giggs’ immortal FA Cup solo effort.
1 – The stuff that dreams are made of v Crystal Palace, 21/05/2016
If scoring your first United goal at the Streford End is a dream come true, then sealing your club’s first FA Cup in 12 years defies definition. United ended the 15/16 Premier League campaign in 5th, consigned to a year in the Europa League after a mediocre season with months of speculation surrounding Louis van Gaal’s future. This FA Cup final meeting with Crystal Palace was a last chance to salvage a deeply disappointing campaign, whilst also giving United a chance to win their first proper piece of silverware in three years since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
Perhaps predictably, given how much of this specific season had played out, the final was a tight, tense affair. Palace were more than ready to prey on United’s insecurities, and Jason Puncheon’s 78th minute strike looked to have sealed victory before Juan Mata’s instantaneous equaliser. Extra time duly arrived, and Chris Smalling made his team’s task even harder with an inexplicable dismissal for a second yellow card for manhandling Yannick Bolasie. After hitting the woodwork twice in normal time, and a man down, thoughts turned immediately to securing penalties and surviving the extra period intact. Lingard, of course, had other ideas.
A surging run and cross from Antonio Valencia saw the ball land at Lingard’s feet. With no time to react, he swung his right leg and connected with a magnificent strike, the ball rising from just inside the area and rising into the top corner beyond a stranded Wayne Hennessey. The United end erupted, players throwing themselves into the crowd in delirium with an unlikely victory on the cards. The celebrations that followed were, to quote a friend, like coming up for air for the first time in a few years. That it was Lingard, a local lad, a United fan and a product of this club’s academy that made it happen with a moment of absolute magic made it all the sweeter. Maybe he’ll score a bigger goal during his professional career, especially with United looking more and more like a team capable of challenging for the biggest honours, but this strike was a special, special moment, and it will certainly take some beating.