Given the amount of late drama that has occurred for and against Manchester United away from home this season, should anyone have expected any less than what transpired last night at Bloomfield Road?
Over the first 45 minutes, not only did Blackpool stand tall to United’s advances, but thanks to two goals, one of which came from former United prospect Craig Cathcart, United found themselves down 2-0 at the break and in serious danger of losing a Premier League match for the first time this season.
The second half, as expected, brought a United onslaught, but Blackpool held fast through more than half of the second half, and as the minutes ticked away, so went Manchester United’s unbeaten season and, more importantly, a golden opportunity to open up some vital ground on Arsenal, City, and Chelsea.
But as we saw in November at Aston Villa and as we’ve seen so, so many times over the years, one goal can be all it takes to turn the tide into Manchester United’s favor. With Blackpool’s shaky defense, it was likely to come, but the later it happened, the less it favored United.
But in the span of a couple of minutes, during which the scoreboard went from Blackpool 2-0 Manchester United, to Blackpool 2-1 Manchester United, to Blackpool 2-2 Manchester United, there was a seismic shift from hope bordering on desperation, to having a draw well within reach, to feeling like a winner was nigh.
With the amount of stoppage time there was going to be due to a delay caused by an unfortunate and frightening head injury to Rafael, and the role that added time has played in shaping many memorable moments in many United wins in the Sir Alex Ferguson era, it would have been all too appropriate for the winner to come then.
But Dimitar Berbatov had other ideas, and instead of searching for a late, late, late winner, United played out those whopping 10 added minutes with a lead that, at one point, looked more than a little unlikely.
And so, instead of ruing a missed opportunity, feeling the bitter taste of a first league defeat since last April, and having to deal with the knowledge that Arsenal would have a little extra to celebrate along with their berth in the Carling Cup final, Manchester United not only remain unbeaten in the Premier League, but the lead on the Gunners is now at five points with 15 matches remaining.
To gloss over the defensive lapses that proved costly would be an unfair way to analyze the proceedings, and it had to put Fergie in his unhappy place to see defensive miscues rear the ugly head away from home for the umpteenth time this season. But to their credit, or perhaps his, depending on what was said in the dressing room at halftime, United buckled down defensively in the second half to keep hope fully alive and did their part to wrap up the result once momentum – and the scoreline – had fully swung in United’s favor.
Of course, the attack gets the most attention, and the second-half introductions of Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez played a pivotal role in bringing United back from the brink. In the veteran Giggs, United have a calming presence, an old head who’s done it and seen it all, who isn’t remotely shaken by crunch situations, and not to mention still has some magic left in the tank. And in young Chicharito, United have their talismanic super sub, their present-day Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a talent who’s clearly blessed with timing as golden as his touch has proven to be.
And what more can be said about Berbatov? With every goal he scores, his critics have less and less to say, and if he can continue scoring at a high rate, he’ll become United’s latest 30-goal scorer and all but remove any doubt as to whether or not he’s repaid United’s club-record investment in him.
In the end, comebacks like this can mark the line between triumph and torture. A five-point lead is a valuable cushion to have when United are about to embark on a pivotal stretch. And it must be considered that United have gone from being five points back at the start of November to being five points ahead going into February, and that the best could be yet to come, with Park, who was in fine form before his departure for the Asian Cup, set to return to the lineup next week and Antonio Valencia set to return sometime next month.
In the end, comebacks like this are more about the intangibles that are at the core of the Manchester United way. Detractors can rail on how United have won ugly more often than not this season, or how this current group lacks the quality of previous United sides, or what have you, but the confidence, the togetherness, the heart, the resiliency, the never give up, never say die, down but never out spirit that United bring to the table is unmatched.
And thanks to comebacks like this, United’s amount of English top-flight titles could soon be as well.
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