Manchester – Marcus Rashford’s 100th goal for Manchester United sealed a 1-0 win against West Ham as the England forward made his push for a World Cup place on Sunday.
Rashford has been one of United’s most improved players this season after several years in the doldrums.
But the 24-year-old is still not guaranteed a place on England’s flight to Qatar for the World Cup in November.
Rashford, who was left out of England’s most recent Nations League squad, took the chance to remind Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate of his qualities with a fine display capped by the first-half winner at Old Trafford.
With Southgate watching from the stands, Rashford’s seventh goal in all competitions this season was perfectly timed before the England manager names his World Cup squad.
After netting against Sheriff in the Europa League on Thursday, Rashford said Erik ten Hag was a “joy” to play for as he hailed the United manager’s role in his revival.
Thanks to Rashford, the 22nd player to score a century of goals for United, and a series of superb saves from david De Gea, Ten Hag’s side are up to fifth place in the Premier League.
Unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions, United are one point behind fourth-placed Newcastle in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
West Ham manager David Moyes has still to win away against United in the Premier League, losing 12 of his 16 visits to his former club.
United had to ride their luck at times, with their defence creaking as the much-maligned Harry Maguire made his first league start since August 13 in place of the injured Raphael Varane.
Rashford carried the main threat for United and he cut through the West Ham defence for a powerful drive that hit Craig Dawson and looped just over the bar.
Rashford went close again with a header from Diogo Dalot’s cross that forced West Ham keeper Lukasz Fabianski into action.
Cristiano Ronaldo was making his first league start since the goalless draw against Newcastle on October 16, having been granted a return to the team following his brief exile after refusing to come on as a substitute against Tottenham.
A wasted pass from Ronaldo brought an end to a promising attack and triggered groans of frustration from United fans, whose angst grew when Anthony Elanga volleyed wide from a good position.
But Rashford settled United’s anxiety in the 38th minute with a perfectly-timed run to the far post, where he leapt above Thilo Kehrer to meet Christian Eriksen’s superb cross with a bullet header from six yards.
Rashford remained red hot in the second half, skipping past his marker for a curler that whistled narrowly wide from the edge of the area.
Ronaldo was left shaking his head in disbelief after squandering two good chances in quick succession as he headed over and then shot wide.
If those misses were indicative of Ronaldo’s decline, the 37-year-old kept trying and his deflected shot almost crept over Fabianski.
Said Benrahma was West Ham’s dangerman and his long-range effort was well held by De Gea as the visitors enjoyed a period of sustained pressure.
In a tense finish, it was De Gea who ended as United’s saviour as the Spaniard denied Michail Antonio with a good stop, then made an even better save to keep out Kurt Zouma’s header.
Dea Gea saved his best for last when he dived to his left at full-stretch to make a brilliant save from Declan Rice’s goalbound blast.