Jose Mourinho was pleased to see some positive signs from his players as Manchester United ended a three-match losing streak and set up a mouth-watering EFL Cup clash with rivals Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side condemned the Portuguese to his first competitive loss at the Old Trafford helm on September 10, and that result was quickly compounded by losing at Feyenoord in the Europa League and defeat to Watford in the Premier League.
It meant Wednesday’s previously nondescript third-round trip to League One side Northampton took on increased importance, but United ensured there would be no humiliating early exit.
Not only was the ignominy of a fourth straight loss avoided, but the 3-1 win at Sixfields set up a shot at revenge against Guardiola’s City in the fourth round.
“We deserved to win clearly,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “(It was as) difficult as I was expecting, but we were totally in control for the first 35 minutes and then we were again in control for the last 45.
“The team was in control from the beginning and the substitutions were just a contribution but overall the team was completely in control.
“The game could and should have been easier because normally it’s easier against 10 men and we should have been playing against 10 men very early in the second half.
“But they fought, they played with their strength and they tried to create us problems, which they did sometimes.
“So, difficult match but overall a positive performance.”
Mourinho swerved most reporters after the match, only speaking to rights-holders before United’s team coach made a swift exit.
In the little post-match activity he did, the Portuguese underlined his anger that Jak McCourt’s tackle on Memphis Depay early in the second half brought a booking rather than a red card.
“I think I should stop speaking about referees’ decisions. I should be waiting for you to speak about (them) – some with honest vision, some with dishonest vision,” he said.
“A couple of minutes ago I told about the red card because it’s really a dangerous situation.
“I’m not speaking about the penalty against Man City, I’m speaking about a situation that could (cause) an important injury, and even in this kind of situation I should stop and leave with you, some honest, some dishonest.”
In the end the decision made little impact on the result, with Ander Herrera restoring United’s lead with a thumping 68th-minute effort that Marcus Rashford added to following an embarrassing moment for goalkeeper Adam Smith.
Northampton had gone into the break level after Alex Revell netted from the spot, cancelling out a sumptuous strike from Michael Carrick on his first appearance since the Community Shield.
“I don’t like to individualise too much,” Mourinho said when asked about Carrick. “I think he was fine. I think the midfield worked really well and were in control of the game.
“Later I changed (Morgan) Schneiderlin to Marouane (Fellaini) to try to control what I knew was going to happen with our opponent losing 2-1, which was (they would) start putting long balls into the box and waiting for set-pieces, but I think collectively the team was fine.”