Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (L) congratulates Manchester United's Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes (R) on his goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on January 14, 2023 | Photo: AFP
Manchester, United Kingdom: Manchester United fans can "dream" of a Premier League title challenge said Erik ten Hag after a stunning late fightback to beat Manchester City 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Two goals in the final 12 minutes from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford moved United up to third and within one point of their local rivals.
City looked to be heading to victory when Jack Grealish came off the bench to head the visitors into the lead.
But the momentum swung on Fernandes' controversial equaliser before Rashford continued his stunning return to form by scoring for the ninth consecutive game at Old Trafford.
City could now fall eight points off the top of the table should Arsenal beat Tottenham in the north London derby on Sunday.
Victory was sweet revenge for United after being destroyed 6-3 when the sides met in October.
However, Ten Hag's men have now lost just once in 19 games since in a stunning turnaround in the Dutch coach's first season in charge.
"The fans may dream but we cannot," said Ten Hag on United's unlikely challenge for a first title in a decade. "We have to keep our feet on the ground.
"We improved, that's obvious. There is still a long way to go, a long path to go, a lot of aspects in our game we have to improve. We are progressing, that's quite obvious."
United's turnaround is reflected in Rashford's revival. The England international has now scored 16 times this season.
Rashford's pace in behind was the biggest threat posed by either side in the first half and he should have done better after rounding Ederson than allowing Kyle Walker to comfortably clear off the line.
Another Rashford burst then took him beyond Rodri, but again the finish was lacking as Ederson hurried off his line to smother.
United's new loan signing Wout Weghorst was watching on from the stands and Martial's lacklustre performance before being replaced at half-time by Antony underlined Ten Hag's need for more forward options.
By contrast, City are blessed with an abundance of talent in the final third and Guardiola's ability to make game-changing substitutions looked to have swung the game in their favour.
Grealish had only been on the field three minutes before netting the biggest goal of his City career to date as he nodded in Kevin De Bruyne's cross on the hour mark.
But City have struggled this season to match the consistency that has won them four Premier League titles in the past five years and were undone by a hugely controversial equaliser.
"This is about results and results are not as consistent as they were in the past. That's a reality," said Guardiola.
Rashford was clearly offside as he raced towards Casemiro's pass, but crucially did not touch the ball and left it for Fernandes to sweep home.
The assistant referee initially flagged for offside and City were livid at the decision to allow the goal to stand.
"Rashford distracts our keeper, distracts our central defenders. I don't know if it's the rule, but I know where we play," added Guardiola, hinting that referee Stuart Attwell was influenced by the crowd.
But the champions now have a huge job on their hands if they are to maintain their dominance of English football in the Guardiola era.