I should be used to it by now. Losing a game with five minutes left to play but coming away with all three points. It’s fitting that such a landmark game for Sir Alex Ferguson should end in a way that has epitomised his 25 year tenure at Manchester United. All the sentiments were there before kick-off. The clubs first Premier League win under his reign came away at Southampton in 1992, where United left it similarly late to snatch victory on the South Coast. Dion Dublin (yes, Dion Dublin) got the only goal of the game that day, striking in the 88th minute – his first goal for the club. Yesterday, it was the turn of Robin van Persie to bail the team out in the dying moments of the game. It’s tempting to use phrases such as ‘coming of age’, but it’s what we’ve come to expect of the man who was last seasons Premier League top-scorer.
I must admit, I never expected such an immediate impact from the Dutchman. New signings aren’t supposed to just ‘settle in’ with such ease. They can look decent, they can show signs of things to come and sometimes they can just look completely lost. It seems van Persie, though, wasn’t having any of that. Four goals in two starts. That’s some way to announce yourself at a new club. Shocking penalty-miss aside, his three goals exemplified everything you could desire from a world-class forward. Whilst it wasn’t the regulation ‘perfect’ hat-trick (left foot, right foot, header), the way he scored his three goals makes it equally as perfect, if not more than the popularly coined phrase’s supposedly acceptable standards. A lot of strikers are one-dimensional. It’s not a criticism, it’s an observation. Some become famed for their ability to score wonderful goals. Beautifully struck volleys, finishes from seemingly impossible angles and goals that make you remember why you love watching the game. Others, are renowned for their sharp instincts in front of goal. They lurk, they probe, they pop up in the right places, at the right times. Nothing fancy, just ruthless efficiency. And then there is the target-man. The big-guy. The lump who stands in the box and waits for a ball to land on his head. The one who you can rely on to power home a header when all other options have been exhausted. All three have their own special way of putting the ball in the back of the net, and they’re all equally as effective at doing so. To combine all three in one game though, well, that is the sign of a truly great player. His first, typified him. A flawless first touch, which took him away from his marker and ensured that the ball dropped in exactly the right place for him to rifle home. The second, a true poachers goal. He was alive to Rio Ferdinand’s header which came back off the post and stabbed home from close range. The third, a well placed header with just the right amount of power. My doubts over his signing are diminishing quicker than Liverpool’s annual title hopes.
Anyway, enough of the van Persie praise, I’m sure you’ve had more than enough of it rammed down your throats already. Time to tackle the negative things. My favourite part.
We were twice behind thanks to headed goals. Rickie Lambert’s opener was, in all fairness, a great header and he was smart enough to move away from the United centre-halves into the right full-back area, where he took full advantage of his superiority in the air over Rafael. Morgan Schneiderlin (the Frenchman with one of the most German sounding names ever) capitalised on Patrice Evra’s slip at the far post to put the Saints back in front after van Persie’s sublime equaliser. Now, it became quite fashionable to criticise Evra last season. Even non-Manchester United fans were doing it. It seemed everyone had decided that his defensive displays, at least, were far from up to scratch. Admittedly, I tagged along (something I’m quite ashamed of, actually), but I never really saw it myself. If that many people are saying it though, it can’t be wrong, can it? Had it not occurred to people though, that maybe he was always so prone to defensive lapses and that perhaps, for a season or two, he just really out-shone himself? I’m probably wrong. I grimaced as much as the next United fan at the sight of him falling to his knees. Maybe he has just turned shit after-all? I obviously don’t spend enough time meticulously analysing the defensive frailties of an infamously attack minded full-back. Nobody slips on purpose though, but slip he did, and it led to Schneiderlin going unchallenged to head past Anders Lindegaard.
The Danish ‘keeper was preferred to his team-mate David de Gea and it was revealed by the Manager that the reason behind this was because of the Spaniards blunder against Fulham last week. Like Rooney, who was dropped for the aforementioned game, the managers message was once again a simple one. If you’re not performing to the standard I expect from you, you’re not going to play the following week. Last season I actually felt far more comfortable with Lindegaard between the sticks than I did with de Gea. Whilst the young Spanish ‘keeper has improved dramatically during his time at the club, Lindegaard brings with him a calming assurance. Whilst you don’t expect him to pull out a wonderful reflex save like de Gea, he has a safe pair of hands and is physically far superior. It’s nice knowing that we have two very good Goalkeepers at the club whom the Manager seems to have no qualms over choosing between.
You’d be wrong to think that the final result was some kind of fluke though, or that they were ‘lucky’. There’s no such thing as luck. You create your own. And it’s Sir Alex Ferguson who has instilled the necessary mindset to pull off these seemingly fortuitous results. Manchester United just don’t know the meaning of the word acceptance. It’s not over until it’s over and the Scot will never let his players accept defeat until the final whistle is blown.
I’d love to say here’s to another 1000 league games, I think any Manchester United fan would, but then I’d be as naive as the Southampton fans who thought they had it all wrapped up with three minutes left to play.