Last April, when Richardson put us 1-0 up after a few minutes against Middlesbrough, I thought it was going to be plain sailing. However we let Boro back in, Viduka scoring right before half time, and we then lacked creativity and motivation to put us back in front. After leading the table all season, we were just five games away from the climax, and now we were going to throw it away?
Chelsea had Newcastle to play, which would bring them to within one point of us if they won. With a trip to Stamford Bridge still on the agenda for United, our bottle was really starting to be tested.
Just a week later we were at Goodison Park, after dramatically beating AC Milan at Old Trafford during the week. We’d been handed a lifeline, thanks to Chelsea 0-0 at St James Park, and now was our chance to really show that we meant business. Chelsea were playing Bolton at home at the same time, the easier of the two fixtures, but as long as we did our job, it shouldn’t matter who they were playing.
To find ourselves 2-0 down after 50 minutes was pretty heartbreaking. The fans would have been right to feel as though the Boro game should have taught the lads a lesson, and they’d come out all guns blazing against Everton. What was happening to our team?
The Chelsea vs Bolton game was being shown on a small telly in the next room, and despite Bolton taking the lead, Chelsea were now 2-1 ahead. Gutted. Had we really come this far just to chuck it all away now?
Four minutes later, Kevin Davies made it 2-2 at Stamford Bridge, but that mattered little to us, still 2-0 down. However, with less than half an hour to play, something incredible started to take place. John O’Shea, the most accurate goalscorer in the league last season (tee hee), started the comeback, making the most of a goalkeeping error. 7 minutes later, Phil Neville scored and own goal and was gutted (honest). Another ten minutes later, Rooney finished brilliantly, keeping his head to put us 3-2 ahead. Then just to finish the day, Chris Eagles, who’d been on the field for less than five minutes, scored a brilliant goal. Three points for United, one point for Chelsea, and the title was almost certainly ours.
United beat City a week later whilst Chelsea drew their third game in a row against Arsenal and the title was officially ours. We’d been tested in the remaining weeks of the season but we didn’t bottle it. We held our nerve and claimed the title we deserved.
This season, we find ourselves in very different circumstances. We haven’t lead the pack for any considerable amount of time and we just don’t seem to be clicking. Arsenal aren’t playing devastating football either, but they’re picking up the points, which is something we are struggling with at present.
Following the Spurs game, where we were handed a ‘get out of jail free card’ courtesy to Tevez’s last kick of the game goal, I felt this would have been great motivation for United. Our players must have been sure we were going to lose to Spurs, were all aware of how much that hurt, but managed to pick up a point anyway. We should have been taught the lesson without having the pay the full price for it. Roll on derby day and the Babes memorial where we can get our season back on track, right?
For some reason, whatever reason, United didn’t learn their lesson at White Hart Lane, and played some truly awful football on Sunday against City. In contrast, Arsenal picked up a further three points yesterday, taking them five points clear at the top.
Today, Sir Alex Ferguson has commented on our current predicament. “It was an important weekend for Arsenal with ourselves and Chelsea dropping points,” he said. “But as I said some weeks ago, some points will be dropped by all the teams and there’s a long way to go. It’s getting interesting now. It’s going to be a really good tight finish, something which the spectators and the neutrals will be enthralled by. But we know the job we’ve got to do, with Arsenal still to come to us and they’ve got to go to Chelsea. I said at the start of the season that I thought it would go down to the wire.”
United were in a much more favourable position last season but they had the ability and the nerve to claim the title, whilst Chelsea let it slip away from them. This season, who’ll have the bottle to become Champions, Arsenal or United?