Marcus Rashford gave the perfect response to being left out for disciplinary reasons by scoring Manchester United’s winning goal in a 1-0 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers that lifted them into the Premier League’s top four on Saturday.
The in-form Rashford was benched by manager Erik ten Hag after being late for a team meeting but came off the bench to fire home a 76th minute winner at Molineux.
Manchester City then wasted the chance to increase the pressure on leaders Arsenal as they could only draw 1-1 at home to struggling Everton despite Erling Haaland’s 21st league goal of the season giving them the lead.
Arsenal, who are at Brighton and Hove Albion later in what is the last Premier League game of 2022, can open up a seven-point lead with a victory on the south coast.
Third-placed Newcastle United also dropped home points as a 0-0 stalemate with Leeds United deprived Eddie Howe’s side of a seventh successive league win.
Arsenal have 40 points from 15 games with champions City on 36 from 16 , Newcastle on 34 from 17 and United on 32 from 16.
Southampton will end the year rock bottom after conceding late on to lose 2-1 at Fulham — their fifth successive defeat.
Crystal Palace hit back from a 3-0 home defeat by Fulham on Monday to beat Bournemouth 2-0 away thanks to goals by Jordan Ayew and Eberechi Eze.
Rashford has been rejuvenated for club and country and after scoring three goals for England at the World Cup has now scored three goals in three games in all competitions since returning.
But his day did not start off as planned with manager Ten Hag leaving him out of the starting line-up as punishment for what was a minor disciplinary lapse.
Without him United were struggling to break down a Wolves rearguard with his replacement Alejandro Garnacho wasting the visitors’ best chance to break the deadlock.
Rashford was sent on at the interval for Garnacho and sealed the points in the 76th minute when he held off Wolves’ substitute Jonny before lashing the ball home from close range.
“He was bright, he was lively and he scored a goal to give a good reaction,” Ten Hag said. “Everyone has to adhere to the rules and if you react like this, it is the right answer.”
When Haaland latched on to Riyad Mahrez’s pass to tap home in the 24th minute it looked almost a formality that City would slice Arsenal’s lead down to two points.
But Everton, on a three-match losing run in the league, had other ideas and stunned the hosts after the break when Demarai Gray cut inside and unleashed a curling effort from the edge of the penalty area which beat City’s goalkeeper Ederson.
Everton moved two points above the drop zone.
Newcastle’s Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes wore a yellow shirt with the number 10 on the back during a minute’s applause for compatriot Pele who died on Thursday as the Premier League paid tribute to the iconic player.
But he was unable to inspire his side to a victory against a resolute Leeds side who hung on for a point.