The best you could say for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that it could have been so much worse for a Manchester United team that is trying to gain its fitness in a race against time as the season progresses, while they try to keep pace with the rest of the Premier League.
As for the League Cup, United are into the fourth round after victory over a Luton Town team who thought they deserved more on a warm evening at Kenilworth Road where United played with the intensity, at times, of an early pre-season tour game. On Saturday that was enough for Crystal Palace to seize the initiative although this time there was not quite the cutting edge about the Championship opponents to take on a United side stuck in third gear.
For all the difference in their circumstances, there are currently only eight league places between Luton, with two wins thus far in their Championship season, and United with their one defeat. Nathan Jones’ side had a confidence that grew as the game progressed and was then worn away as Solskjaer sent on Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood who between them added the two goals in the last five minutes of the game.
It was the first goal for Greenwood since he was sent home from England's Nations League trip to Iceland and Denmark this month and Solskjaer reflected on the teenager’s progress later. The United manager says that he thinks Greenwood will one day develop into the archetypal No 9, albeit less of a “battering ram” striker he says. “For him to be a No 9 he needs to learn how to head the ball,” Solskjaer said. “And if he wants to do that he’s welcome to come and practice with me.”
There were one each for Rashford and Greenwood, to add to the penalty scored by Juan Mata just before half-time. There were 10 changes from the starting United team that lost on Saturday with only Harry Maguire in both. On the other side there were nine changes to Jones’ Luton side from the team that beat a Derby County side featuring Wayne Rooney on the same pitch three days earlier. Luton were playing their seventh game of the season and they stayed in it until the last two minutes of regulation time.
There was no doubting that United were ponderous in attack against a Luton side who try to pass the ball. Solskjaer’s side, which included a debut for Dean Henderson, who made a good save with the score at 1-0, could not raise their tempo to dominate Luton as might ordinarily have been expected, although they were solid in defence. That first effort on goal from the home team saved by Henderson came with 10 regulation minutes to play.
There were good performances in the Luton side, who have arguably a much bigger games at Vicarage Road on Saturday: the first Hertfordshire-Bedfordshire clasico in 14 years. The young Irish full-back Peter Kioso and the more experienced Kazenga Lualua both made inroads at times. There was just a shortage of chances created by Jones’ side. “I’m just proud of the [tactical] structure we showed and how we went about it,” said Jones. Many of his players are still yet to experience the Championship. “We were playing in League Two three years ago,” he said.
“I think the 3-0 flatters them [United] slightly,” the Luton manager said. “It looks like it was a comfortable win for them but it was anything but.”
Luton went in at half-time a goal behind to Mata’s penalty, clipped past goalkeeper James Shea after George Moncur tripped Brandon Williams. Although up to then Solskjaer’s players had struggled to get in behind their opponents. Luton had attacked United, especially Aaron Wan-Bissaka down the right flank, where Lualua, once of Newcastle, Brighton and other places in between got in behind. Ryan Tunnicliffe, once of United, played in front of the Luton midfield and offered another line of cover. There was one wayward header from Eric Bailly that opened up some space for Lualua.
“You can see we need match time,” Solskjaer said later. He said Henderson, on his debut, had to deal with a different challenge: long periods of inactivity and then a major save to make. On Maguire, Solskjaer said: “Harry just needs to play to get sharpness and fitter. He never wants to rest. He always wants to play.”
Henderson’s save came from Luton defender Tom Lockyer and then there was a clearance off the line from Bailly. At that point Solskjaer made his substitutions. Greenwood laid the ball off to Rashford for him to finish just inside the box and then the United teenager bent the ball around Shea for the third goal of the night. It will have been a relief for Solskjaer but much greater challenges lie ahead and they are coming soon. United go to Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday for a game they really cannot afford to lose, and the season is only just in its second week.
Luton Town (4-1-4-1): Shea; Kioso, Lockyer, Bradley, Norrington-Davies; Tunnicliffe; Clark (Cornick, 75), Shinnie, Moncur (Lee, 75), Lualua; Hylton.
Substitutes: Cranie, Pearson,Sluga, Mpanzu, Collins.
Booked: Kioso, Hylton.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Williams; Fred, Matic; Mata (Greenwood, 78), Van de Beek (Fernandes, 78), Lingard; Ighalo (Rashford, 78).
Substitutes: Grant, Dalot, James, Mengi.
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)
Flattering scoreline for a generally lukewarm performance for United who look in pre-season mode in terms of tempo. But when the quick-quick was belatedly added to the prevailing slow-slow, Rashford and Greenwood were clinical in a way Van de Beek and Oghalo were not,
GOAL!! Luton 0 Man Utd 3
Greenwood cuts in from the right, executes a couple of stepovers, double lollipops as Ron Atkinson used to call them, then whips a left-foot shot from an angle of about 45 degrees in at the far post, threading it under the keeper's outstretched right hand as he dived.
90 min Luton 0 Man Utd 2
Electric run from Greenwood, cutting in from the right, beating Norrington-Davies and Tunnicliffe before flaying a right-foot shot from a tight angle at Shea covering the near post.
Seconds later Lingard cuts in off the left and steers a handsome right-foot shot just wide of the right post.
88 min Luton 0 Man Utd 2
Good finish. The ball was played up to Greenwood who used his strength, back to goal, to hold off Bradley and lay it off for Rashford's run down the inside-right. He cushioned it and opened his foot to drill a right foot shot with his instep into the bottom right corner.
GOAL!! Luton 0 Man Utd 2
Rashford with a right-foot daisy-cutter.
84 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Maguire wears Hylton's arm on his nose as they go up for a Luton goalkick and though he isn't booked for that he is 30 seconds later when he goes into Williams with his foot up.
82 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Shinnie takes the free-kick and sends over a devilishly dipping cross to the back stick and Henderson pulls off a brilliant save low at the right post from Lockyer's header. First save he's had to make and it was a fine one. His defenders scramble Lockyer's rebound effort, hit from a supine position having fallen on his back. It was Bailly who belted that effort clear.
80 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Cornick earns a corner by catching United napping as they pass on messages about formation following the substitutions. United clear their lines but Matic is penalised for wrestling with Shinnie as the former Rangers winger tries to take the ball back down the right.
79 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Here comes the cavalry: Greenwood, Rashford and Fernandes replace Mata, Ighalo and Van de Beek.
77 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Double Luton substitution - Lee replaces Moncur and Cornick comes on for Clark.
75 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
LuaLua is played down the left by Norrie Paramor-Davies. He switches it over to Shinnie who sends Kioso down the right. The full-back drives over a deep, flat cross that Bailly has to battle Hylton for and emerges the winner.
73 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Wan-Bissaka drives down the right before whipping in a near-post cross that Bradley slides in to knock away from Ighalo. Van de Beek pounces on to it and with remarkably quick feet spins and stabs a shot from the right angle of the six-yard box that is blocked by the Luton captain.
70 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Lingard thinks he should have a corner and he may well be right when he wraps his right-foot shot from 22 yards over the bar via, he claims, a flick of the toe from his Carrington youth-team colleague Tunnicliffe.
68 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Moncur and Clark work an opening down the right but the cross is scrambled away to the edge of the box where Shinnie snatches at a shot and shanks it wide. Howl of anguish from someone of a Luton bent.
66 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Norrington-Davies slides in to make a bone-jarring block tackle on Wan-Bissaka. Perfectly timed and executed.
64 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Lingard has a hooked back-post shot cleared off the line by Tunnicliffe, having beaten Shea. Seconds later Matic drills a low, left-foot shot from 20 yards that Shea palms away at full stretch.
63 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Williams races over to tackle Clark who had been set off on a break up the right when Tunnicliffe picked off Lingard's backheel and threaded it up to the winger.
61 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
LuaLua blocks Wan-Bissaka's cross and Mata takes the resulting corner. He picks out Maguire with a left-foot inswinger but Bradley challenges strongly and repels the danger.
59 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Luton work the free-kick down the right and Kioso takes it to the byline but his cross lands on the roof of the net.
57 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Williams is yellow-carded for bringing down LuaLua by stepping across him as the winger dribbled forward and tried to hack the ball off him with his heel.
55 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Good move by United with Lingard popping it off at the edge of the United box to Mata who spears a 40-yard diagonal up the left to Van de Beek. The new signing controls it immaculately and faces up Kioso then lays it off to Lingard who tacks right across the 18-yard line before ballooning a shot into the empty stand.
53 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Bailly, Fred and Wan-Bissaka contrive to knock the ball out of play when ostensibly trying to work a triangle on the left.
Van de Beek is penalised for making a back for Clark as they went up for a header and barging him over as he leapt.
51 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Sleepy start from Manchester United to the half. Nothing has stuck to Ighalo so far.
48 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Hylton goes down the right and bullets over a cross that is so far ahead of Clark that the centre-forward looks bemused. Didn't pick his head up nor nod to the fact the he is the centre-forward who would be expected to be on the end of it.
46 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Luton kick off and work it back to go forward. At half-time Darren Ferguson said that Luton were guilty of showing Manchester United too much respect when in truth they had neither earned nor deserved it.
Here's Juan Mata's penalty
Contrast his technique when placing it with Kevin De Bruyne's last night. A stab versus a sweep:
Half-time Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Luton were impressive for long periods of the half, looking threatening down the left and have a well-grooved routine of using that flank to pick out Clark's late runs into the box. He hangs back to try to isolate Williams but for all their endeavour, United have the lead by virtue of a clumsy trip. Nothing very edifying too far from United but there are odd glimpses of Van de Beek's class and Lingard shaking off the rust.
45 min Luton 0 Man Utd 1
More incisive since the goal, Manchester United knock the ball upfield, Fred arrowing a 50-yard diagonal to Mata's feet. But the, having seen that direct works, Mata and Williams try to soft-shoe their way through the box on the left and are squeezed out of space. They need to take shots on or get crosses in rather than trying to slalom or tiki taka their way through the penalty area.
GOAL!! Luton 0 Man Utd 1
Juan Mata slots it into the right corner with his left foot.
Manchester United penalty
Moncur trips Williams as the left-back picked up a deflected clearance. The midfielder came in from the side.
41 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Manchester United have been awful since the opening 10 minutes.
39 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Strange font on the back of Luton's shirts.
37 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Longer spell of possession from Manchester United ends when Van de Beek tries to knock the ball back to Wan-Bissaka in a one-two but horses up the return with his back to goal and the right-back just entering the box on the angle to shoot.
35 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Tunnicliffe and LuaLua combine to send Norrington-Davies beyond Wan-Bissaka and down the left to the byline. He whips over a cross that bypasses Hylton's near-post run but picks out Clark at the back. He leaps but belts it over from 15 yards having beaten Williams.
34 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Up pops a graphic showing Luton have had 70 per cent possession over the last 10 minutes.
32 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Luton opt for a short corner and let United, who looked shaky under the last deep one, off the hook.
30 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Clark picks up the ball 40 yards out on the right, cuts inside and tries to guide a 25-yard shot into the top right corner but Maguire gets in the way to block and the ball sails over the bar for a corner.
28 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Kioso looks an exceptional talent at right-back ... until he loses the ball on another marauding run. United snap forward into the counter, working it into the box on the left where Van de Beek's pass is either not read by Mata or completely misflicked.
26 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
I've seen about a dozen Premier League matches over the past 10 days. No doubt Manchester United look the most undercooked team in terms of physical intensity.
Luton corner on the right and they fool the defence by hitting it long. Bradley wins the header unchallenged behind the back post and Shinnie turns before it drops to volley a shot from eight yards out straight into the alert Williams.
24 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Luton continue to make inroads up the left with Tunnicliffe and LuaLua. Fred is having to drop in to help out Wan-Bissaka because Mata isn't working back so far.
22 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Tunnicliffe finds space down the left and bounds into the box but a combination of Bailly and Henderson snuff out the danger as the former United trainee runs out of road.
20 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Left-foot shot from Fred from 25 yards ricochets off Bradley and goes out for a corner from which De Beek makes the cutest no-look lay-off only for Mata to have been caught offside as he tried to finish it from 12 yards.
17 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Good chance for Luton but Hylton, in typical No9 fashion, is guilty of greed when he takes on the shot from an angle of about 25 degrees to Henderson's right post when Claek and Shinnie were better placed in the middle.
15 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Lingard, who has been very lively, hares down the left, centres to Van de Beek, who steps over it and allows it to run to Mata by the penalty spot. He sweeps a shot towards the far corner where Shea, who looked beaten, got down late to stop it creeping in with a strong wrist.
12 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
United goalkick that Henderson wallops up the right beyond Mata and straight to Norrington-Davies. Luton come back at them, feeding it up to Hylton. Maguire's poor interception gives it back to Luton and LuaLua takes it down the left then pings a far too forceful cross/shot/pass into the heart of the United defence.
10 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Pretty slow start but United are beginning to spray the ball around nicely. Maguire strides forward as if Luton are happy for him to take on the shot, which he does from 25 yards with his right but cuts across it and slices it miles wide.
8 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Maguire strolls out of defence with Hylton not pressing too intently. Lingard again drops into midfield to win the ball back when Fred miscontrolled it. He spins and heads off up the right, never threatening goal but winning a corner.
6 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Lua Lua dribbles down the left and surprises Wan-Bissaka by not taking him on but hitting the cross early. It surprised the other winger, Clark, too, who failed to make the back-post run to meet what turned out to be a very menacing cross.
4 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Good work from Lingard to take the ball on the half-turn before spinning to tee up Mata who cuts in off the right wing to scud a low shot straight at Shea.
3 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
Nothing comes of it so United regroup and build gain with crisp passing and control until Williams is dispossessed high on the left by former Hartlepool United full-back Peter Kioso.
1 min Luton 0 Man Utd 0
The players take a knee, some raise their fists and then United kick off, playing the ball back to Fred who knocks it up the right for Wan-Bissaka.
United have been out on the field
For five minutes. They're not wearing their magic eye kit but grey shirts and white shorts. At last Luton join them, wearing orange and black.
'Biggest club in the world'. Darren Fletcher is in the house.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Dean Henderson's debut
He’s been waiting patiently for so long, he’s very driven, he’s had a great desire to play for Man United in goal and finally now he has his first competitive game for us.
Most of the lads have been in stadiums like this, for me this is the culture and feel of English football from when I grew up. I came down here with the reserves in 2009 or 2010, with fans it's a difference place, you’d love fans to be here now, but the boys will be fine.
I make that nine changes for Luton
Does no one here want to play this game?
Your teams in glorious black and white
Luton Shea, Kioso, Lockyer, Bradley, Norrington-Davies, Clark, Tunnicliffe, Moncur, LuaLua, Hylton, Shinnie.
Substitutes Cranie, Pearson, Cornick, Lee, Sluga, Mpanzu, Collins.
Man Utd Henderson, Wan Bissaka, Bailly, Maguire, Williams, Fred, Matic, Mata, van de Beek, Lingard, Ighalo.
Substitutes Rashford, Greenwood, Grant, Bruno Fernandes, Dalot, James, Mengi.
Referee Tim Robinson (West Sussex)
Your Luton Town line-up
Ten changes for Manchester United
Sir Alex Ferguson used to curse the very existence of Kenilworth Road. He hated the plastic pitch, the narrow confines of the streets around the stadium and, above all, despised the fact that on Manchester United's last visit there in April 1992 a draw on the new grass pitch, when they were vying for the title with Leeds United, immediately preceded defeats by Nottingham Forest, West Ham and Liverpool that cost them their first championship since 1967.
Since that last meeting, United have, of course, won 13 titles, five FA Cups, four EFL Cups, two European Cups and a Europa League. Luton, who went down in 1992 and missed out on the Premier League goldrush, have spent eight years in the Championship (or its equivalent), nine in League One, six in League Two and five in the Conference.
But at the start of the overdue renewal of this tale of the prince and the pauper (and the porpoise), Luton are on a roll, with a 100 per cent record in the Championship, having beaten Barnsley and Derby, and have knocked out Reading, top of the Champo, and newly-relegated Norwich from the cup of the Carabao and Caribou. Add that to their closing run of two draws and three victories that saved them from relegation in July, and Nathan Jones, the manager who took them up, foundered at Stoke then came back, deserves all the praise that is being showered upon him. Truly a case of 'he knows the club'.
Speaking of which - and let's not forget Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces more of this gash than Frank Lampard who has a different passport - Manchester United arrive at Kenilworth Road after a terrible performance in their defeat by Crystal Palace on Saturday. It was insipid, tactically confused and the players who instigated their revival, Bruno Fernandes in particular, looked rusty.
But it was nothing apocalyptic as yet. They need a left-back, a centre-half, a winger and a centre-forward, to offload the accumulated detritus of seven years and not to play against a side so adept as Palace as carving teams apart on the break. They need a spark for their season and despite Ferguson's gripes about the pitch, Kenilworth Road has always been a happy hunting ground for them. They're unbeaten on their last five visits.
We'll have the team news at 7.15pm