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Hojlund's scoring form has Man United pushing for top-4 spot; Brighton cruise at Sheffield United

Associated Press Monday, 19 February 2024, 07:05 Last update: about 3 months ago

The goals are suddenly flowing freely and easily for Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund.

That was about the only thing that came easily for United in a 2-1 win at Luton on Sunday, but the Dane's scoring form could be enough to fuel a late push for a top-four spot for Erik ten Hag's team.

Hojlund netted twice in the opening seven minutes at Kenilworth Road to become the youngest player to score in six straight Premier League games — after going scoreless in his first 14.

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United spent much of the game hanging on after that, but managed to see out a fourth straight league victory that puts it just three points behind fifth-place Tottenham.

“We made it hard for ourselves today,” Hojlund said. “I was rubbing my hands a lot of times because I was quite nervous. I’m grateful for the win though, but a little bit lucky."

While this has been a disappointing season for Ten Hag's side, a top-four finish suddenly looks like a realistic prospect with Aston Villa five points in front in the final Champions League spot.

“I think we are back in the race and we are building momentum,” Ten Hag said. “We need to build pressure. Every game is a final to get closer to them.”

And Hojlund's goals are the main reason for optimism at United, which suddenly seems to have a striker that can be relied on to find the net more often than not.

“He can perform under stress,” Ten Hag said of Hojlund. “And when things go against him like in the first half of the season, he has abilities to be a strong character and he’s determined to score goals. And that’s what we saw. ... You see he’s a fighter. He keeps going. And he has great abilities in front of the goal.”

Luton helped Hojlund out quite a bit on the opener, which came after just 37 seconds for United's quickest away goal in the Premier League.

Hojlund intercepted a poor pass by defender Amari’i Bell to run clear through on goal and round goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski before slotting the ball into the empty net.

The second came with a slice of luck when Alejandro Garnacho's shot after a corner struck Hojlund in the chest and bounced into the net.

United seemed to be headed for an easy win at that point, but turned out to need every bit of that two-goal cushion to stave off Luton's fightback.

The hosts dominated the rest of the first half and pulled one back through captain Carlton Morris in the 14th, but spurned a number of chances to score an equalizer despite being backed by a raucous crowd at the smallest stadium in the Premier League — which only seats just over 11,000 fans.

United also had a number of opportunities to finish the game off on counterattacks in the second half, while Luton's Ross Barkley had the final chance for an equalizer when his header in injury time hit the crossbar.

“We had some really massive chances (in the second half) and we should have scored,” Ten Hag said. “How we started the game was exactly how we wanted to do it. The only thing we didn’t do so well was to be clinical and score more goals.”

HOLGATE'S HORROR TACKLE

Mason Holgate made Sheffield United's uphill battle against relegation even harder with a reckless red-card challenge against Brighton.

Holgate was sent off after just 13 minutes for a studs-up tackle on Kaoru Mitoma, and the visitors took full advantage by crusing to a 5-0 win that kept Sheffield stuck to the bottom of the table.

Just one point would have been enough to lift Chris Wilder's team above Burnley into 19th and build some momentum after a win at Luton last weekend.

But Sheffield quickly wilted after Holgate's sending off as Facundo Buonanotte and Danny Welbeck then scored inside a four-minute span to put the visitors 2-0 up by the 24th, before three late goals in the second half — including two by recent Africa Cup of Nations winner Simon Adingra — padded the scoreline.

“Mason has to take the responsibility that his decision has hurt us and the gameplan goes out of the window after that," Wilder said. "It’s difficult when things like that — which, of course, was self inflicted — go against you.”

Sheffield has now conceded 65 goals in 25 Premier League games, the most ever at this stage of the campaign.

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