JESSE LINGARD became Manchester United’s “scapegoat’ before their revival, claims Micah Richards.
And while Hammers’ boss David Moyes tipped the England midfielder to challenge for a place at the Euros, pundit Richards defended him from past critics.
“His intent was there from the off. He was getting comfortable, growing into the game, wanting the ball because it was a big occasion for him.
“You’ve been hiding behind the Man United covers, as some people would say, but we see here, he’s got more to his game.”
West Ham’s classy victory put them fifth, six points off second-placed United, as Lingard stood out on his first Premier League start for 13 months.
The 28-year-old smashed home their second goal on 56 minutes and pounced again late on when his shot was spilled into the net by Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez
And ex-United chief Moyes singled out the 24-cap Three Lions star after the most difficult year of his career.
He said: “It is great when you bring someone in and they do well.
“If he keeps up the form he showed – and he is not completely match-fit – scoring the goals, he will not be far way from Gareth Southgate’s England squad in the summer.”
Richards’ Match of the Day colleague Danny Murphy also hailed Lingard’s fresh start.
The former Liverpool playmaker said: “He played with swagger, he played with confidence.
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“Being a big fish in a smaller pond might do him the world of good, where the responsibility is on him.
“He wasn’t a regular at United, but he’s scored goals in cup finals, he’s been there and done it.
“How well he’s looked after himself. He’s hardly played this season and he was fit as a fiddle.”
And Old Trafford manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists Lingard can return to a major role at United next season, having already extended his contract there until 2022.
‘HE’S UNITED THROUGH AND THROUGH’
Solskjaer said: “We want Jesse to come back here revitalised and having shown at West Ham how good a player he is.
“He’s just been unfortunate with a couple of issues – some periods that he had to stay away from us with the Covid and isolation.
“The rest of the team has done well. We’ve had little to no injuries and he’s not forced his way into the team, unfortunately.”
“He’s a Man United player through and through.”