United started the year with an uninspiring 1-1 draw away to Birmingham. They took the lead with a scrappy goal just before half-time before own goal saved our skin again. Our equalising goal was ruled out for offside initially but the right decision was made with the referee spotting that the final touch had come from a Birmingham player, not Rooney who had been flagged offside (even though he was onside!). With United pushing forward in the last ten minutes, our hopes were dashed when Fletch was sent off, much to his dismay.
Then came our 3-0 at home against Burnley in which Antonio Valencia stole the show in what could have been ‘one of those days’. It wasn’t until we’d been playing for over an hour that Berbatov broke the deadlock, only for Rooney to make it 2-0 five minutes later. The pair of them were subbed off almost immediately for Owen and Diouf, the latter making his home début. Anderson played a great ball up to Diouf and he headed past the keeper.
Another easy game for United and another victory, although again, with the majority of our goals coming later on. Rooney opened the scoring after eight minutes but United were held at 1-0 for the majority of the game. Rooney went on score three goals in the last eight minutes to make it 4-0. Nani had made his way back in the the team and was starting to look half decent again which was a bonus given that our next game was a tough one at the Emirates.
This was another top performance that stands out in my mind when looking back at our season. Like the European Cup semi-final of the season before when Cristiano Ronaldo destroyed Arsenal, it was Nani who took our rivals to pieces on this day. A lovely bit of skill from Nani on the right wing saw us take the lead after half an hour, then a great break through goal from Rooney minutes later put us 2-0 up before half time. Our performance was almost a carbon copy of our best performance here the season before and it was unbelievable to watch. Whilst I’m no fan of Arsene Wenger, it’s hard to ignore his skills as a manager, so I couldn’t quite believe he was letting us get away with embarrassing them again. Park Ji-Sung grabbed a third just after half time and the double over Arsenal was complete.
January 08/09: P23 W16 D5 L2 GF40 GA14 P53
January 09/10: P24 W17 D2 L5 GF56 GA20 P53
The own goal nonsense went in to overdrive as United thrashed Pompey 5-0 at home. Rooney and Berbatov were the only United players to get their name on the scoresheet, although Carrick’s goal should have gone under his own name. With 5 minutes before half-time it was still 0-0 but we went in 2-0 up and any chance of a Portsmouth miracle was ruled out. Berbatov’s was the best of the game in a match we won without really getting out of first gear.
Villa Park has been a stomping ground for United over the years so after our last two games it was fair enough we were confident to get the points against Aston Villa. After going a goal down after 20 minutes, United recovered almost straight away, with Giggsy hitting the ball at pace which resulted in another own goal. But minutes later Nani got himself sent off and it didn’t matter that we went on to batter then with ten men, because we couldn’t get another goal. To add to the frustration, Chelsea lost to Everton, so it was another missed opportunity for the reds.
Berbatov scored the opening goal against Everton after just quarter of an hour, with us looking for a result at the ground where Chelsea had just lost. It wasn’t to be though, with Everton equalising minutes later and takin the wind out of our sails. Ferguson maybe seemed happy to take the point, bringing off Berbatov for Obertan, only for Everton to take the lead. The manager then threw on Owen for Valencia, but it was too little too late, and Jack Rodwell, who is apparently a boyhood red and has ruled out any imminent move to United this week, scored in injury time to put us out of our misery. Must do better.
West Ham at home was a good club to bounce back against and the lads went in 1-0 up at half time thanks to Rooney. He scored again ten minutes after the restart before Owen scored again to make it 3-0. We were within 1 point of Chelsea but they had a game in hand.
February 08/09: P26 W19 D5 L2 GF46 GA15 P62
February 09/10: P28 W19 D3 L6 GF66 GA24 P60
An away trip to Wolves proved more difficult than it should have, meaning we relied on Scholes to score the only goal of the game. Anyone who questions the hunger of our ageing lads only needs to look at how wildly he celebrated our winner that day.
Three goals in the second half wrapped up our win against Fulham. Funny how a team can be so different away from home. The side that always seems to ask questions of us at Craven Cottage didn’t have much of a say in this game. A commanding performance from United with chances aplenty, with Schwarzer being called upon to stop it getting embarrassing. Rooney and Berbatov were rewarded for their patience in front of goal with United ending the day 3-0 up.
Then one of the days we most look forward to, playing our bitter rivals Liverpool. We last played them at Old Trafford exactly 51 weeks ago and they humiliated us 4-1. I sat in my seat for a long time after the final whistle, contemplating what that result meant for my pride and our title race. Things were very different now though, as a result for Liverpool would only mean denying us the title, rather than putting themselves in a favourable position to make it 19. When Fernando Torres was allowed to stroll in to our box and receive a free header from a few yards out, you had to think it was going to be a long day. However, minutes later, Valencia charged in to the Liverpool box and the referee noticed that the Argie midget was dragging him back. Torres petulantly took a swipe at the penalty spot but a penalty it was for United and a chance for Rooney to score a rare goal against Liverpool. There was no time to hold your head in your heads as Reina got his hands to it, as Rooney quickly netted the rebound to make it 1-1. It could have been a very different day had the Spaniard not patted the ball straight in to Rooney’s path. Still, we went on to put in a deserving performance and rewarded for that when Fletch put in a great cross for Park to meet with a diving header. 2-1 United and back to the top of the table. It was the first time we played them at Old Trafford since making it 18 so Eric Cantona, as requested, came back.
Ryan Giggs helped us take the lead in the first half away to Bolton, putting a delightful ball which own goal turned in. With Rooney not playing, the weight of responsibility fell on Berbatov’s shoulders, who grabbed two goals to guarantee us the points. Darron Gibson, who had replaced Fletcher a minute before, made it 4-0, and with six games left to play United were 1 point clear and on the same games as Chelsea, despite their 7-1 thrashing of Villa that day.
March 08/09: P29 W20 D5 L4 GF49 GA20 P68
March 09/10: P32 W23 D3 L6 GF76 GA25 P72
Chelsea had a week’s rest before our crucial game at Old Trafford, following their early Champions League exit. In contrast, we had just come back from Germany a few days before and were now without Rooney, who got injured right at the end. Following the officials giving Chelsea the points at Stamford Bridge, I was hoping the favour would be returned at Old Trafford. Instead, the linesman allowed Drogba, who was a good yard or two offside, to put the game beyond reach with a second goal for Chelsea in the last ten minutes. Truth be told, it was a disappointing performance from United, but equally, Chelsea weren’t anything to write home about. A draw would have been fitting, a win for United thanks to a penalty earned by a clean tackle would have been fair, but instead we lost, despite Federico Macheda’s best efforts to win us another title with a late goal.
United were to face more disappointment the following week after we drew 0-0 with Blackburn. We missed the dynamism of Rooney and failed to take our only decent change of the game. Berbatov played a brilliant ball through to Valencia but for whatever reason he chose to strike it straight at the keeper. Despite the fact Berbatov should have assisted our winning goal, a goal that could have won us the league, he was then abused by our own fans, in what was my personal lowest point of the whole season. He was our only striker on the pitch, we needed a goal, and our travelling support chose to berate him tirelessly. Our fans got what they deserved that day and it felt like the title was gone.
But if the title was gone, surely there was time for just one more day of celebration for our fans. Derby day. The best day of the year. The sun shone brightly, not a cloud in the sky, and our fans wanted something to cheer about. Mancini bizarrely opted to wrap himself up in a jacket and scarf, whilst the rest of Manchester stripped off. It was a bit of a nothing game and whilst I had got my head around the idea that we probably weren’t going to win the title, I couldn’t face the idea that City were to put the final nail in our coffin. I couldn’t bear the idea of that Argie troll scoring a winner and cupping his ears in front of our support. Fortunately, he went AWOL. Gary Neville had Craig Bellamy in his back pocket and Adam Johnson bottled it big time against Evra. Nigel de Jong seemed to be the only thing standing between us and a winner so when Mancini took him off for red wannabe Stephen Ireland, we were in luck. Scholes pushed forward, Fletcher dropped back, allowing our little legend to get himself unmarked in to the box with 20 seconds of injury time left to play. Bellamy tried a Hollywood 50-yard ball and failed, allowing United to attack down the left and put the ball in to Scholes to head past Given. We’d done it again. An injury time winner. And Scholes even got a snog off Nev. I then baked myself a bit in the beer garden before watching Chelsea lose to Spurs in a game that saw John Terry get sent off. Carlsberg don’t do football days at the local…
I have wondered from time to time who would take our penalties if Rooney wasn’t on the park. After Carrick’s failed attempt at Burnley, he was probably ruled out. Following Berbatov’s dreadful effort against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final the season before, coupled with his lacking confidence, he probably wouldn’t be high up the list either. I saw Nani take a fabulous penalty at the Allianz in the summer so it could be him, although he might be prone to one of those daft little chips down the centre of the goal. The question was answered against Spurs at home when after an hour played. Evra earned us the first penalty and Ryan Giggs waved Nani away to make it 1-0. But ten minutes later Spurs got an undeserved equaliser after Rafael, who was filling in for Evra, who was throwing his guts up, on post duty dived out of the way of King’s header. Nani continued to enjoy his great form and made it 2-1 before Giggs got another penalty, which he dispatched in the opposite corner, to make it 3-1 and take us back top, albeit with a game more played.
April 08/09: P33 W24 D5 L4 GF61 GA25 P80
April 09/10: P36 W25 D4 L7 GF81 GA28 P79
Our tickets were restricted at Sunderland, a game which we believed could see us win the league a few months earlier, and picked up a needed three points to keep us in the hunt. Nani did well to put us 1-0 up with half hour played and we hung on to the final whistle, despite Phil Bardley‘s best attempts to take points off us.
Then came Stoke at home, a club who I don’t mind, but whose fans I despise. They claim their angry obsession with any opponent is simply ‘banter’ whilst any sane football supporter can look down their nose at Stoke’s small club mentality. Even Liverpool fans behave better at Old Trafford and if any group is entitled to direct ‘banter’ in our direction, it’s them. Still, thrashing them 4-0 brought very little pleasure, given that we knew our trophy was going to be lifted at Stamford Bridge that afternoon. If news hadn’t filtered through the crowd from someone’s radio, you were certain to know Chelsea had scored because of the Stoke fans’ reaction to their goals. They even started chanting “Easy!” when Wigan were being thrashed, despite the fact THEIR OWN TEAM was being thrashed. Bizarre. Fletcher, Giggs and Park all scored for us, and just for old time’s sake, own goal made another appearance. Still, as far as days that lose the title go, it was fairly nice, with our fans singing of our love for our club despite Chelsea winning the league, and Sir Alex Ferguson rallying us ahead of next season. Roll on 2010-2011.
May 08/09: P38 W28 D6 L4 GF61 GA25 P90
May 09/10: P38 W27 D4 L7 GF86 GA28 P85
Jan 09-May 09
Cristiano Ronaldo 10 (18)
Wayne Rooney 8 (12)
Dimitar Berbatov 6 (9)
Carlos Tevez 3 (5)
Jan 10-May 10
Wayne Rooney 12 (26)
Dimitar Berbatov 6 (12)
Ryan Giggs 3 (5)
Darren Fletcher 2 (4)
August 08-December 08: P18 GF29 GA14 P38 Points per game: 2.11
August 09-December 09: P20 GF45 GA18 P43 Points per game: 2.15
January 09-May 09: P20 GF39 GA4 P52 Points per game: 2.60
January 10-May 10: P18 GF41 GA10 P42 Points per game: 2.33
– The second half of both seasons is stronger than the first half of both seasons
– Had we picked up the same average number of points in the first half of this season as we did in the second we would have won the league by 2 points
– Had the second half of 09/10 been as strong as the second half of 08/09 we would have won the league by 4 points
– We scored 18 more goals in 09/10 than in 08/09 (average of 0.5 goals more per game)
– We conceded 4 more goals in 09/10 than in 08/09 (average of 0.1 goals more per game)
– The extra 4 goals were in the wrong games. 1 against Burnley (+1 point), 1 against Villa away (+3 points), 1 against Villa home (+1 point) 1 against Sunderland home (+3 points) = 8 more points.