At half time, Manchester United had over three times the amount of shots on target as their opponents, yet they were 2-0 down. Unlike performances of weeks gone by, we actually had a decent enough 45 minutes, creating chances and keeping possession well.
However, every time the ball got in to our half, there seemed to be panic. Patrice Evra could not handle Aaron Lennon, again, whilst Rafael da Silva was disappointingly out of sorts against Luka Modric.
There was not a lot wrong defensively about the first goal, with the cross being just the right height to evade Nemanja and Bent happening to tuck in between our two centre-backs. The only criticism could be that Evra and Nani failed to close down the danger.
For the second goal, both our full-backs were to blame. Evra watched Lennon cross the ball in, doing little to get in his way or stop him, whilst Rafael floated about between Vidic and Rio, who had Bent covered, whilst the man he was supposed to be marking, Modric, wandered around freely, ready to fire past Van der Sar.
It was hard to imagine where the goals were going to come from. We’d been creating chances but Spurs would surely sit back and defend their lead now, so if we couldn’t score against them when they were attacking, what chance did we have once they’d parked the bus? One goal wasn’t enough, neither was two, we needed three. Three goals in 45 minutes against a team more than happy to defend for their lives? We were fucked.
When Michael Carrick went flying eleven minutes after the restart, I could hardly believe our luck when Howard Webb pointed to the spot. Whilst there was no denying Gomes had made contact with the player, sending him tumbling, it was clear as day the direction of the ball had changed, meaning Gomes had got a hand to it. For whatever reason, when a goalkeeper takes the ball then the player, it’s never given as a penalty, even though if this same scenario was to play out between two outfield players on the half-way line, the referee would certainly blow up for a foul.
It was only upon getting home and watching the replay a good twenty times that I began to get a clearer picture of it. Carrick had changed the direction of the ball, getting his foot to it before Gomes, with the intention of rounding the keeper. He definitely did get a hand to it, but was that before he made contact with our player? The fact that there’s no clearcut answer to this, despite seeing it over and over, suggests Webb’s decision to award a penalty wasn’t “the worst decision of the season”, like the knobs in the press and on MOTD made out.
Regardless, we’d got our first goal, Cristiano Ronaldo ever so coolly scoring from the penalty spot, and his desire to get a result was matched by that of the crowd, who roared them on as he quickly scooped the ball out of the net and ran back to get the game going again.
Rafael played in a good ball to Ronaldo moments later but it was inches too high. The hard-working Fletcher was replaced with Paul Scholes, with Ferguson hoping his second substitution of the game could have as much influence as the first. Carlos Tevez was scurrying all over the field, chasing down every ball that was in metres of him, showing just the fighting spirit we needed to get our title challenge back on track.
Ten minutes after the penalty we were on level terms. Dimitar Berbatov passed forward to Carlos Tevez, who in turn passed the ball on to Wayne Rooney, who still had a lot of work to do before finding the back of the net. He saw his opportunity and seized it, using his ever so skilful feel to get him in the right position, before firing in at the near post. Game on!
In the stands we had yet to stop celebrating our equalising goal before Ronaldo put us ahead. Voices hoarse and fists raised in the air, we could hardly believe it. A wonderful cross from Rooney which saw Ronaldo leap through the air to head past Gomes. It was a great goal and after watching MOTD that evening, it looked as though Ronnie quite enjoyed scoring it!
On our feet, singing “we shall not be moved!” and we put in our fourth. This time, Berbatov played to Ronaldo, who crossed brilliantly for Rooney, kicking it out from under his feet just as Rooney had done minutes earlier. This was reminiscent of our 5-1 battering of Fulham a few years back, with Rooney and Ronaldo sharing the limelight and exhibiting their skill beautifully.
Three goals in four minutes and it felt like the day couldn’t get any better. Then Gomes rushes out of his goal and heads clear to prevent Tevez from getting on the end of it. The ball falls to Berbatov, just inside their half of the pitch, and he appeared to swing wildly at it, the ball rising high in to the air. Then as it starts to descend you realise it’s actually on target and Gomes has to make a save. It was sublime! “He’s shit that Berbatov, couldn’t score from there!” someone near me joked, all to aware of the stick our supremely talented striker has endured of late.
A couple of minutes later, Berbatov gets his goal, with Rooney assisting again. Berbatov heads the cross straight at Gomes with power, who cant hold on to it. As he falls to the ground and tries to kick it away, Berbatov wins the battle and the ball is in the back of the net. Both fists raised, Berb is a happy bunny and United have scored 5 goals in 22 minutes. Insane.
It could have been more as United played out the remaining ten minutes or so, Ronaldo hungry for a third and chances still coming thick and fast, despite United slowing their pace. It was exhausting to watch but thoroughly enjoyable. I swear I heard groans when it was announced there was going to be just three minutes of injury time. Is that all? Does it have to end already?
The most remarkable thing of the day was not Spurs’ capitulation, it wasn’t even how many goals we scored in such a short space of time, but the idea we’ve been hiding that football away so far this season. With Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and Berbatov all on the pitch the attacking football was fucking incredible. Some of the balls Berbatov was playing through were amazing, with Ronaldo’s electric pace, Rooney’s return with his eye for goal and Tevez’s work rate, making us unstoppable. I challenge any defence in the World to stop us when we play like that.
The solution isn’t to play those four from the start though, I don’t think, and it certainly shouldn’t be to go two goals down every game! But now they have enjoyed such free-flowing, entertaining and most importantly, effective attacking football, surely they will have the confidence to keep it up. Not that I expect us to rip every team apart from now until the end of the season the way we did Spurs, but surely we can see elements of that performance in our games from this point forward? I certainly hope so because it was fucking fantastic to watch!
More of the same please lads.