Get in there!
Relief only tells half the story. Those full range of emotions that I alluded to in the Sunderland rambling were in evidence against their bitterest rivals on Wednesday: Anxiety, frustration, tension but ultimately an ecstasy that is like no other. I predicted at the weekend those vibes would cling to us like leeches for the remainder of the season, how are your nails?
There is no better feeling than bagging a last minute winner, even more so when our away record has been unsatisfactory. It was our first last-minute winner all season and what a time to get it. With every result going against us on the night, Young’s intervention was timed to perfection. The self-belief and character to not accept it was one of those nights was so gratifying. Van Gaal has made us resolute and instilled a backbone, traits secondary to the football but equally as important.
Comparisons between Ashley Young and Eric Cantona have, by all accounts, been sparse, however the former Villa winger is now sitting alongside such esteemed company:
On the ninth anniversary to the day of ‘Le dieu’ settling the game at St James’ to prompt THAT Keegan meltdown and the start of the Toon capitulation, United won the game by the same scoreline in similarly dramatic circumstances thanks to Young pouncing on a very generous offering from Tim Krul, who did wonders for Van Gaal once more.
The importance of Cantona’s strike in ’96 is etched into our famous folklore, the catalyst of an exhilarating, improbable charge to the line. Young’s strike had the hallmarks of a massive goal, a moment which is potentially season defining. It may well turn out to be a callous over-egging of the pudding when all is said and done but who knows… that goal could be the one that was seen as the goal that propelled United back into the Champions League and change our dynamic in the rebuilding job. Lightning could well strike twice with a momentous one-nil win at St James’.
In the words of Keegan, ‘love it’.
Both games, despite a nigh-on decade apart, are comparable not just by scoreline. In ’96 the foundations for victory were set by goalkeeping heroics from the great Peter Schmeichel. The Great Dane, in arguably his best game in a United shirt, adopted a ‘thou shall not pass’ mentality in a colossal display, miraculously propelling everything that came his way.
Our current keeper, well on his way to greatness himself, was (again) in stunning form. Can you imagine where we would be in the table were it not for our sensational Spaniard? We might be talking about Young’s goal putting us back in contention for Europa League at best were Dave not producing his best displays in a United shirt. The point-blank save to keep out Riviere was breathtaking, among other notable saves. He is producing in the games that matter making big save after big save (Hazard, Sterling, Oviedo come to mind, there will be many more), which separates the crème de la crème from the rest.
I don’t think you could blame a player of his calibre stalling on a new deal as he waits to see whether we achieve our ambition of top 4 football this season. Although I see no compelling foundation that he ‘wants’ to move to Real Madrid- as an Atleti fan and the added pressures that will come with that, but he will harbour ambitions to play on the biggest stage, any sane player would. We need those European nights back at OT. If he keeps performing the way he has done all season, he will get his and our wish and will give us a great base to tackle this tricky run-in.
Louis, Woody, if you’re reading this, SIGN HIM UP!
The game was marred by a frankly disgusting incident, which has littered today’s back pages, between Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse. Spitting at an opponent is arguably football’s most deadliest sin, it was so deplorable. I can think of more important players who this dark cloud may have lingered over. Anyone crying rivers?
If guilty, Evans is likely to face a six game ban according to reports- the severity of the incident has been reflected accordingly with a much harsher punishment this season. With Evans’ train-wreck performances of late, many will welcome the inevitable consequences. Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling were forming a promising partnership with a mix of aggression from the Argentinian and a new-found composure (relatively) from the latter. Hopefully they will now get the chance to develop together in the weeks ahead. The book will be thrown at Evans, and rightly so, there is no condoning that sort of behaviour whatsoever.
On a brighter note, it was heart-warming to see Jonas Gutierrez step back onto a football field after successfully overcoming testicular cancer. Even though last night’s game was a pressured environment and its importance impossible to understate, there was a universal pleasure, not just in the ground but the footballing world as a whole. Football was a side-note for that wonderful moment, a moment which we hopefully all savoured.
To achieve the goals set out by the suits at the start of the season, invariably over the course of the season you have to ride your luck on occasions, particularly away from home. With a stonewall penalty on Riviere waved away, De Gea’s performances at the top of the spike on the graph once more and the comical nature of the winning goal, if United ultimately secure Champions League football we will all remember 4th March 2015 as one of those striking it rich days.
Our attention now turns to the quarter-final against Arsenal on Monday night. We are now only one step away from gracing the home of football again, and we are long overdue not only a trip to Wembley but also ending our FA Cup hoodoo.
I will be back in my seat in the Stretty doing my fraction of twelfth man duties. It goes without saying this is now our only chance of silverware this season. The FA Cup acted as the launchpad for Fergie’s legacy, it could also be a vital springboard for Van Gaal to write his own chapter in United’s illustrious history.
So we need YOU to do your bit and make it a cauldron of noise and continue OT’s re-found fortress. I believe there will be flags permitted into the ground to replicate the good ol’days, when visits to Wembley were more frequent than our recent tally.
It would mean everything if I am writing about a return to Wembley on Tuesday.