Despite cruelly being denied a 20th league title yesterday, Manchester United bowed out of this years campaign in winning ways. A single Wayne Rooney was enough to seal victory…and so nearly the most unlikely of Premier League titles.
In the unlikely scenario that Sunderland would be totally there for the taking and United would indeed score at least ten goals, Sir Alex Ferguson opted for a safe 4-5-1 formation to try and ensure the victory and leave the rest in the lap of the football Gods. Ryan Giggs came in for Hernandez and Johnny Evans was a welcome return alongside Rio Ferdinand.
Naturally United started with a few nerves and the game, during the opening exchanges, was a little tentative. However, with the Reds playing with the 5 in Midfield it didn’t take long before we started to control and dominate in all areas. Once Scholes and Carrick got hold of the ball they were able to involve Young, Valencia, Jones and Evra, all of whom looked threatening down the wings.
With the travelling United faithful in excellent voice as always, a real credit to our club, the men in the middle were spurred on and played with great intent. The threat was most notable from the wings with Valencia and Evra managing to get behind the Sunderland full backs and deliver a variety of different balls for the defence to deal with.
With United pushing to open the scoring, and Sunderland providing little threat other than a speculative effort in the 6th minute from David Vaughan, it was only a matter of time before we took the lead. Given his record this season, it was only fitting that it was Wayne Rooney who gave United the lead. Phil Jones swung in a cross from deep, picking out the unmarked Rooney who had the simplest of tasks to nod in unchallenged.
With City still goalless United were sitting at the top of the league. With the United fans jubilant the players were likely to have known the current standings. And with that in mind there was an eagerness to kill the game off early. United therefore continued to attack, and with that came a number of chances. Giggs had a fierce shot saved well by Mignolet and Rooney struck the woodwork with a beautifully floated free kick. And it was Rooney who could have eased all the pressure. When Valencia once again burst into the area along the touch line, he showed great vision and composure to pull a ball back to Ashley Young who was completely unmarked just 12 yards out. He should have scored himself but rather than taking a touch he snatched at a shot first time. As luck would have it though, Rooney saw the ball rolling towards him, and being unmarked barely 2 yards out couldn’t miss. He did miss. He actually missed the ball. The only explanation was that he had, literally, taken his eye off the ball. Scarsley believable, and a chance missed that could have come back to bite us.
Shortly before the half time whistle the United fans noise dulled a little as news filtered through that City had, inevitably, taken the lead against QPR. Weather the players sensed it or not, the United fans soon found their voices again to spur on the team, I don’t know. Either way, United continued to play their game and looked comfortable.
A volley late in the half, however, from ex Red Fraizer Campbell reminded United that the lead was fragile. It was Sunderlands only creditable chance of the half, and Campbell would have been disappointed (honest) not to have found the net. Previously, Sunderland were restricted to tough tackling and trying to disrupt Uniteds flow.
The second half was far closer but United once again started on the front foot, with Rooney again testing the Sunderland ‘keeper. Then came eruptions of joy from the away end. QPR had somehow found an equaliser at City. All of a sudden United were leading the pack again. But with this came added pressure. Add the pressure to retain this lead to the fact that Sunderland realised they should try and give their fans something to cheer about on the final day, and we had a United side which looked very nervy.
Sunderland now looked to press United and United did get a little scrappy, losing a bit of composure at the back and therefore inviting the pressure on even more. This Sunderland spell lasted a good 15 minutes. A 15 minutes which had all United fans stupidly tense.
The away end, playing a massive part as always with their support, again added to Uniteds display. Wild scenes again left nobody inside The Stadium of Light with any doubt, QPR were beating City! This time United relaxed and went back to playing in the manner of the first half: dominating, controlling, forcing Sunderland to commit fouls and creating chances.
This time, rather than being sloppy in taking their chances, United just found themselves lacking in a bit of luck as well as a goalkeeper at the top of his game. The Sunderland stopper was alert to deny Young. Rooney once again struck the woodwork from a free kick. Then it was Scholes who struck the post, running onto a half cleared cross to exquisitely volley a shot. He beat the ‘keeper but the shot struck the inside of the post. The rebound found its way to Ryan Giggs who unleashed a truly magnificent shot at goal, only to see his effort palmed over by a world class Mignolet save, after bouncing to his feet after the initial Scholes effort. All these missed chances were just adding to the butterflies that we all had. Typical United, never doing it the easy way.
As time ticked away possession was paramount. With City needing two goals, and Sunderland now on their summer holidays, United held the ball for almost the entirety of the final 10 minutes. Nani, on in place of Ashley Young who had taken a knock, added a little freshness and worked hard to help United see the game out.
When the game ended, United were top of the league, City had equalised but that wouldn’t be enough. Barley had the players shaken hands though and the mood changed. In the cruelest of twist City had scored a second injury time goal and with it won the league.
It was a devastating end to what had been a good performance and a very hard fought season. The pain on the players faces when the news was broken was plain to see. This pleased me immensely, they care and they will take that pain with them into next season and use it. As for the manager? His first thoughts were not to consol his players, not to think of what might of been. It was to take his players to the United fans, to thank them for their support on the day and to thank them for their support all season. And to say sorry. Our fans duly let their voices of respect and love be heard.
I’m proud of my team, I’m proud of my manager, I’m proud to be a United fan.
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