LONDON -- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has not convinced everyone he is the right man to lead Manchester United, but he is beginning to prove he can come up with a big result just when he needs it most.
One Premier League win in 2020? No league goal for more than a month? One top-flight clean sheet all season? Mauricio Pochettino stating publicly he wants to return to management in England? No problem. Seemingly against all the odds, United went to Chelsea and won 2-0 thanks to goals from Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire.
Having started the day ninth in the table, they travelled back to Manchester on Monday night just three points off the top four with 12 games to play. The race for a place in next season's Champions League is on, regardless of whether or not they get any help from UEFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
United insist privately they are committed to this rebuild under Solskjaer, but the only way he can be sure of keeping his job into a second full season is to guide United back to Europe's top club competition. Back to within touching distance of Chelsea and still in the Europa League, he has given himself a chance.
If nothing else, victory will give Solskjaer some respite and the pressure, for a few days at least, is on Frank Lampard. Chelsea have won just one of their past six league games and face Jose Mourinho and Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Lampard, who lost N'Golo Kante to injury after 10 minutes, felt hard done by after both Kurt Zouma and Olivier Giroud had goals ruled out by VAR while goal scorer Maguire escaped a red card despite appearing to kick out at Michy Batshuayi.
"Harry Maguire should've got a red," said Lampard. "Then he scores the second goal, and the game changes off that. That's a major part of what VAR was brought in for. That one was wrong.
"I think Zouma's goal should have stood. At first I didn't. It's certainly not clear and obvious."
Solskjaer, meanwhile, was critical of his team's first-half performance, but they were still good enough to seal their first league double over Chelsea since 1987-88.
A creditable draw with Liverpool in October came after a run of five games without a win. Back-to-back victories over Manchester City and Tottenham in December followed draws with Sheffield United and Aston Villa. Solskjaer is desperate for more consistency, but it is not a bad knack to have.
In January last year, Solskjaer took his players to Dubai for a warm-weather training camp and came back to stun Pochettino's Tottenham at Wembley. Ed Woodward revealed later the performance went a long way toward deciding Solskjaer was the man to take the reins permanently, and United's executive vice-chairman was in the stands here to see his charge get the better of Lampard following a week away in Marbella.
Solskjaer will wish he could take the squad away every week.
The only thing that could have made his night in west London better was seeing emergency loan signing Odion Ighalo convert a 93rd-minute chance after coming on for his debut, but Willy Caballero wouldn't allow the icing to go on the cake. It is unlikely to bother Solskjaer too much after a day that had seemed destined to end with a familiar story of mounting problems.
Approaching a year in the job permanently, he should be used to adversity by now, but it hit new heights in the buildup to Monday's match. Victor Lindelof, a certain starter, could not make the trip because of illness and was replaced with Eric Bailly. And then, 17 minutes before kickoff, Mino Raiola dropped a bomb. In quotes posted on social media, Paul Pogba's agent launched a withering attack on Solskjaer after the United manager had said on Friday that "Paul is our player and not Mino's" amid fresh speculation about the Frenchman's future.
"Paul is not mine and for sure Solskjaer's property," wrote Raiola. "I hope Solskjaer does not want to suggest that Paul is his prisoner. I think Solskjaer may be frustrated for different reasons."
Solskjaer, though, wasn't about to let it ruin his night.
"No comment," Solskjaer said afterward. "I don't need to say anything. [The timing] didn't seem to bother any of our players."
Instead, he wanted to talk about positives, such as Martial's goal -- a brave header after getting across Andreas Christensen -- and Bailly's excellent performance in a back three after nearly 10 months without a competitive game.
"We want to be in the Champions League next year, and we've given ourselves a chance with this result," said Solskjaer. "We know we need to improve. We're going to work hard. We need to recover now because we've got another game on Thursday."
Solskjaer could do without waiting for the pressure to mount before taking another step in the right direction.