LONDON:  Marcus Rashford has been English football’s man of the year. Any doubts were wiped away when his stoppage-time winning goal against Wolves lifted Manchester United to a 1-0 victory which propelled them to second place in the Premier League.

The 23-year-old England striker chased a long pass out to the right wing, cut inside, mesmerised a couple of Wolves defenders and then, with an ironic flourish, shot into goal with the help of a deflection off man-of-the-match Romain Saiss.

This was United’s latest winning goal in a Premier League game at Old Trafford since September 2009, when Michael Owen claimed victory over Manchester City with a winning goal in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

Last weekend Rashford became the third-youngest United player to have scored 50 Premier League goals after Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. He followed up that goal against Leicester with No51 against Wolves to help turn United’s season around.

Only three weeks ago fans and media were questioning the future of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the disappointing Champions League exit against RB Leipzig. Now a team whose form veers erratically from one match to another are presenting the most immediate challenge to leaders Liverpool.

Rashford has contributed seven goals. He is United’s second-top scorer after Bruno Fernandes but the Portuguese midfielder has the advantage of being United’s penalty taker: four of his 10 goals have come from the spot.

On top of his achievements on the pitch Rashford secured public respect for England’s star players in general with his successful campaign to persuade the government to increase the financial support for school meals for children during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That campaign earned Rashford a public service award, the MBE, in the Queen’s annual New Year Honours List. No-one better deserved to mark his football year with a winning goal in so-called ‘Fergie time’ – those extra minutes in which United have turned defeat into victory.

The influence of Sir Alex Ferguson lives on as United’s old manager saw from his privileged and protected position in the directors’ box in an otherwise empty Old Trafford. Victory was an 79th birthday present two days early for him.

Solskjaer, scorer of the stoppage-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern, had always believed that his team were not scoring enough goals at the end of games last season.

He said: “It was a point we brought up early in the season in a meeting. We didn’t win many points towards the end of games and we have a tradition for it at this club. Now we have won quite a few points towards the end of games.”

Solskjaer dismissed questions about United’s Premier-winning potential.

He said: “There’s no title race after 15 games. You can lose the chance of being in a race in the first 10 games but maybe we can start talking about a title race only in March or April. But the belief is there. The players go into every game thinking we can win against anyone anywhere. This result is massive for confidence and attitude.”