Blackburn produced arguably the shock of the season so far by defeating Manchester United 3-2 at Old Trafford in an unexpected set back for the champions.
A Dimitar Berbatov brace wasn’t enough to rescue United as goals from Yakubu and Grant Hanley sealed a famous victory for under pressure manager Steve Kean.
On his 70th birthday Ferguson chose Javier Hernandez to partner the in-form Dimitar Berbatov up-front, with a very odd looking midfield featuring Valencia and Welbeck on the wings, with Nani and Park operating through the middle. Carrick and Jones were the makeshifts centre-backs with Rafael and Evra the fullbacks and DeGea in goal.
United, on the back of two consecutive 5-0 wins, started at a very subdued tempo. The game burst into life after 16 minutes, as Berbatov tugged back Samba in the penalty box.
Yakubu made no mistake, sending DeGea the wrong way to give Blackburn a shock lead.
United twice went agonizingly close to restore parity. After 27 minutes Jones saw his close range shot cleared by a timely clearance from Hanley, then, two minutes leader, Hernandez sent his effort fizzling wide of the far post, with Bunn all but beaten.
Bunn then produced a fine save to deny Nani just before half time and send the teams back to the dressing room with the visitors 1-0 up.
Anderson replaced Hernandez after the break to give United a more familiar 4-4-2 look, with Welbeck moving up-front and Nani shifting out on the left. United’s fans might be growing disillusioned with the Brazilian but, at this time of the season, any player welcomed back from injury is a blessing for Fergie.
Six minutes into the second half Yakubu stunned Old Trafford again as he put Blackburn 2-0 ahead with a compose finish.
Steve Nzonzi’s throw looked unlikely to trouble United’s back four until the big Nigerian pounced on it, shrugging off two challenges before drilling the ball past DeGea.
United were shocked but were quickly back in contention as Dimitar Berbatov headed home from close range after Rafael’s cross had been poorly cleared, to score United’s 1500 Premier League goal.
Berbatov was on the score sheet again six minutes later as he converted Valencia’s cross to score his sixth goal in the last three games. Valencia, again one of United most positive performers, zipped past Henley before squaring the ball back to Berbatov who calmly slotted it home.
Blackburn have dropped 14 points from a winning position this season – more than any other Premier League club – and looked poised to continue their dreadful run.
To their credit though, Kean’s men continue to adopt a brand of fearless attacking football and went close to regain the lead as Hanley got on the end of Pedersen’s cross but saw his effort finishing just wide of DeGea’s post on 74th minute.
Six minutes later Hanley did find the net as he beat DeGea to Pedersen’s corner to head the ball into an empty net and shock the Old Trafford faithful.
United could not stage one of their famous late comebacks and have missed a great chance to go top of the league with City playing away at Sunderland tomorrow.
Defensive frailty seemed to have been an issue of the past for Fergie, but problems have surfaced again. Obviously the absence of a nominal pair of centre backs is a big issue and Evra has become something of a liability in the past few months – some fans would argue he has been so for a season – and he struggled again today.
The goalkeeper issue is not to be taken lightly either and Fergie might be forced to ditch DeGea for Lindegaard, as the pressure on the young Spaniard grows given the Dane excellent form.
Home form was crucial last season as United celebrated their record breaking 19th title, and they better not lose any more points at Old Trafford from here to the end of the season if they’re to be confirmed champions.
Fergie didn’t get the present he craved and for United fans and players it was an inglorious finish to a superb year.
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