Craven Cottage has given us mixed memories over the past few years. As the final whistle has blown, it has given us a feeling that our season might have been defined.
Looking back, this season is one of my favourites. This season was full of insecurities. Despite leading all the way through, after going years without a title and seeing so much unsatisfactory football played by too many substandard players, I was almost waiting for us to mess up.
Our game at Craven Cottage felt like that day. We went a goal down after less than 20 minutes played and you had to wonder whether we going to blow our lead. It was only February which meant we had plenty of times to drop a few more points after today.
Giggsy drew us level before half-time but we weren’t playing well and a draw wasn’t good enough really.
To give a bit of context, we’d just beaten Lille away thanks to a dodgy Giggs freekick. Yeh, it was within the rules, the ref didn’t say “on my whistle” and Giggs’ quick thinking earnt us an away 1-0 win. But after this Fulham game, we had Reading away in the FA Cup, after a disappointing 1-1 draw at home. I was nervous that we weren’t quite there mentally yet and were starting to show signs of crumbling.
But then, with just two minutes on the clock, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was on 15 league goals, sprinted down the left flank. He kept going and going, shrugging off players, before rifling the ball in to the net. God, how good did that feel?
He ran off towards the bench, pointing at Gabriel Heinze (remember when we liked him?) who had told him before kick-off he had a feeling that Ronaldo was going to make the difference that day. This was United returning to their old winning ways. The winning ways of 1999 and before. It felt fucking brilliant.
We went 9 points clear and the following weekend we beat Liverpool at Anfield in injury time. Two months later we won the league again.
We had just got battered 4-1 by Liverpool at home. Ahead of kick-off against the dippers I had been fully anticipating us tearing away and then coasting to our third title. Worst case scenario we’d draw but essentially, it was in the bag.
This devastating result left us four points clear with a game in hand. We went to Craven Cottage at the end of March, just a few weeks left, desperate to get our title campaign back on track.
So, when Paul Scholes handled on the line, got sent off and conceded a penalty, you knew it was going to be a long day. They scored the penalty and we went in 1-0 down at half-time. Sir Alex Ferguson waited until half-time to bring on Rooney, who did change things, and United started to look like they could get something out of it.
But then they got us on the break, going 2-0 up just before the end of the game, then Rooney got sent off. Phil Dowd was his usual celeb-seeking self then gave Wazza his second yellow for the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.
We were now just 1 point clear with a game in hand and had to wonder whether our title hopes were slipping away.
They weren’t. We won our game in hand and won the league by 4 points.
We lost 1-0 to Villa at home and a fortnight later faced Fulham away. This game summed up our season. Our back five consisted of Tomasz Kuszczak, De Laet, Carrick, Fletcher and Evra. It was no surprise then when we got ripped to shreds.
Michael Carrick made Bobby Zamora look like Pele, as he shrugged him off time and again.
Two defeats in three league games. The Daily Mail wrote: “When Sir Alex Ferguson looks back on this draining, demanding season, he may decide that this was the day the title was lost.”
A game so early on in the season can rarely define your season but there’s no denying that this is a very important three points with more difficult fixtures on the horizon.
Come on United!