It’s easy to forget the high points of 2018, having been bogged down with the dull football and disappointments. But there have been some. Finishing second, the highest league position since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, was a positive.
The FA Cup semi-final against Spurs was a great day out. While the campaign ended in disappointment in the final, we had a mint day at Wembley. Dele Alli put Spurs ahead after 10 minutes but Alexis Sanchez drew us level before Ander Herrera won us the game.
While in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean an awful lot, beating Juventus in Turin was also a great result, particularly given they had been unbeaten in all competitions up until that point. We went behind to an exquisite Cristiano Ronaldo goal, only to equalise in the 86th minute and score the winner in the 89th.
But what was our best moment of 2018?
Runner up: Appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Given United’s recent history of clinging on to managers long past it becoming possible for them to turn the failing situation around, it was a surprise to learn that Jose Mourinho had been sacked. It was an even bigger surprise to learn that a manager who was relatively unproven, in the Premier League at least, was named as his replacement. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the manager of Manchester United, and it feels great to say that.
Even better than us having our hero as manager is the start he has made. Even with a lowly +9, we are enjoying a better goal difference now than at any point previously this season. He’s won his opening games playing attacking football and giving academy graduates a go in the team. It’s perfect.
Mourinho leaving and Solskjaer joining has brought his chant to life. “You make me happy when skies are grey.” It feels as though the rain clouds have shifted and the sun is shining again. We have hope once more. We enjoy watching United play. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted.
In press conferences and post-match interviews, Solskjaer sings the praises of the players, speaks of the honour of managing the club and looks genuinely delighted to be here.
Following our recent win over Bournemouth, Solskjaer was asked what he would doing in that moment if he wasn’t United manager. “I would have watched the game on telly, having some crisps and cake.” Ha. What a guy. And he’s one of us.
Ahead of the Bournemouth game, he was asked about the players who have struggled this season and what needed to change for them to succeed.
“I cannot tell you,” he responded. “I’ve just been looking at the team, there’s so many good players, and when you get them confident and looking forward to games, we have a quality squad. I also said ‘we’ back then, because it is ‘we’. This club is part of me. But it’s a different thing when you’re a fan on the outside.”
Who knows how long this honeymoon period will last. But it feels bloody brilliant right now.
Winner: Beating City away
Since Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City, we’ve regularly heard various derby days talked up as the biggest one ever. First it was the League Cup semi-final in 2010 when we beat them in injury time on the way to lifting the trophy. Then the one at the Etihad towards the end of the 2012 season when Kompany swung the title chase in their favour. So was the same fixture the following season when Robin van Persie proved just how important it was that he chose us over them.
But undoubtedly, the biggest ever derby day was in April 2018. If City won, they won the league. Back in 2007, our win away to City meant we were within touching distance of the title. Unless Chelsea won the following day, we were the champions. “We’ve won the football league again, inside the council house” was the chant of our fans after we won 1-0. But we weren’t officially champions until the following day when Mourinho’s Chelsea drew with Arsenal.
This year, City were set to have the ultimate bragging rights. They had installed fireworks on their stadium roof and had printed up t-shirts ready to celebrate the title win.
With City 2-0 up at half-time, even the most optimistic United fan struggled to see past one of the most painful chapters in the club’s history being written. They absolutely battered us in that first 45 minutes and should have been out of sight.
But in the second half, reportedly following some inspirational words from Michael Carrick in the dressing room, United were a different animal.
Paul Pogba, with his blue hair, gave us a lifeline with his goal with 53 minutes on the clock. Five minutes later, he equalised. Then, against all odds, Chris Smalling popped up to score the winner with 20 minutes left to play. De Gea made a couple of top saves afterwards to secure the three points.
Sanchez, who had shunned a move to our rivals a few months earlier in preference for a transfer to United, played a key role, assisting the last two goals as well as playing in the cross that Herrera chested down for Pogba’s first.
After the game, word spread that City had made reservations at Wings in town to celebrate their title success. Outside of the home dressing room, Jesse Lingard gleefully shouted: “Booked tables have you? We’ll take your fucking tables.”
There aren’t many things United fans will give Mourinho credit for but the piss taking after beating City was off the scale. Our former manager was asked about City’s cringey documentary on Amazon and his response was one of the best things he said throughout his time at the club.
Because I am in the movie I could ask for some royalties. But if they send me one of the shirts they had in the tunnel when we played there, the shirts that were saying ‘We did it on derby day’. If they send me one of these shirts, I give up about the royalties.
Be still, my beating heart.
There was no chance of us denying City the title that season, sadly, and our defeat at home to West Brom meant they won it in the most anti-climatic way possible, watching us on the telly. But beating them at their own ground, making them take down their fireworks and bin their t-shirts, was fucking mint. That was their opportunity to be able to take the piss out of us until the end of time and their players bottled it.
We scored better goals in 2018 but I struggle to remember one I celebrated more in recent years than Smalling’s that day. UTFR.