Romelu Lukaku bagged his first goal in a Manchester United shirt on Monday as the 10-man Premier League giants labored to a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake in Utah.
Lukaku, who joined the Red Devils from Everton in a reported 75 million pound ($98.2 million) transfer last week, fired United ahead on 38 minutes, latching on to a low cross from Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The 24-year-old Belgian international striker had also been involved in United’s equalizer scored by Mkhitaryan in the 29th minute after Luis Silva had given Salt Lake a shock early lead.
Lukaku used his strength and physical presence to hold off the Real defense to feed Jesse Lingard, who provided the pass for Mkhitaryan to score.
United manager Jose Mourinho was pleased with Lukaku’s display, saying the former Chelsea player was now a “top striker.”
“It’s just nice for him, not important for me,” Mourinho said of Lukaku’s first United goal.
“Before he scored the goal I told him I love everything you do on the pitch. Don’t be worried about scoring or not scoring. He gets behind people, works and presses well. Like everything he does.
“It’s easy to feel it because he was my player four years ago his evolution has been great. He’s now a top striker. The goal is just a detail, not important.”
– Red card woe –
United’s win was marred by the second-half dismissal of Antonio Valencia for a reckless lunge on Sebastian Saucedo.
Valencia was given his marching orders after a lengthy consultation between the match referee and Mourinho.
“The referee asked me to change the player and I didn’t because I don’t agree with the card,” Mourinho said, before appearing to suggest Saucedo was to blame.
“(He) was really aggressive in the second half. That’s what happens. Some other actions were a bit dangerous,” Mourinho said.
“It’s young people with enthusiasm playing against Manchester United but it’s a friendly match and it’s a different mentality. But it’s preseason so no problem. It is good experience or us to play with one player less.”
The United goals were the rare highlights of a disjoined first half performance from Mourinho’s side, who had travelled to Utah earlier Monday from their Los Angeles training camp.
For much of the opening half United were second best, with their defense being given a torrid time by a team who are languishing near the foot of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
The lively attacking trio of Luis Silva, Joao Plata and Jefferson Savarino often left United’s defense scrambling to get into position, with Phil Jones finding the movement of the Salt Lake front two hard to deal with.
A surging run from Savarino set up Silva’s opening goal on 23 minutes.
United however responded swiftly with Mkhitaryan’s equalizer just before the half hour mark.
Real coach Mike Petke, with one eye on his team’s MLS fixture in Portland on Wednesday, withdrew his entire starting line-up at the 30-minute mark, and United capitalized to take the lead through Lukaku.
Mourinho also fielded a new starting XI for the second half, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial leading the line for United.
United again struggled to impose themselves however, and their frustration boiled over when Antonio Valencia was sent off for a reckless lunge on Sebastian Saucedo midway through the second half.
United will face Manchester City in Houston on Thursday in the third game of their US tour.