I was away from a computer all day on Saturday and unable to get to a television. One of the lads I was with was a blue, so he let me know that City had lost and also passed on the news about Shearer’s début game as manager. However, there was only one result the United lads cared about. Liverpool against Fulham.
A week before we had travelled to Craven Cottage and with less than twenty minutes played were a man and goal down. Not an ideal start. Dropping all the points then meant a Liverpool win there on Saturday would have seen them go top of the table, albeit after playing two games more than us.
With the final whistle due to be blown any minute, one of the lads got BBC Livetext on his phone. It was still 0-0 and injury time was on its way. Refresh.
90+2 GOAL. Yossi Benayoun finds the net with a goal from inside the box to the bottom left corner of the goal.
Fuck. I tried not to grumble too much. God knows we’ve scored injury time winners often enough not to begrudge others from doing it. It was still bloody annoying though and now we had to face Aston Villa with the pressure on and without many of our key players. No Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand… on top of the already missing Wes Brown, Owen Hargreaves and Rafael da Silva. Gary Neville was set to play his first game in three months whilst jet-lagged Carlos Tevez was to lead the line after only returning from South America on Friday evening. Shit, shit, shit.
At 2-1 down, whilst most United fans find it hard to push out that niggling belief that we’re going to do it, it was hard to see where our goals were going to come from. Despite putting on the pressure, all it would take was another long ball over the top to leave our 4th choice right back O’Shea (behind Brown, Rafael, Neville) and 4th choice centre back Neville (behind Vidic, Rio and Evans) stranded.
Then up popped Ronaldo, who amazingly scored twice in a game where he otherwise failed to shine to get the blood pumping through our veins again. Villa had already made it clear they would settle for the point, bringing on the defensive Reo-Coker for the attacking Milner, which only urged our players forward.
Martin O’Neil obviously had got wind of the amount of allotted injury time before it was revealed to the crowd. His unhappy reaction only signalled to us that we had at least some chance of getting decent time after the 90 to win this football game. The fourth official held up the board and the crowd roared. Come on United. When listening to 606 on the radio on the way home, much was made of this by bitter Villa and Liverpool fans. Aside from the fact three substitutions had been made and several Villa players went off the pitch for treatment during the second half, our winning goal was scored well before that fifth minute was played.
Giggs played the ball in to Macheda on exactly 92 minutes. One turn and swing of the foot and on 92 minutes and 4 seconds, the net was bulging.
Whilst we’ve shared many a brilliant moment at Old Trafford, seeing that goal go in and the celebration that followed was one of my happiest times at home in quite a while. Vidic’s late winner against Sunderland this season felt pretty fantastic but we’d battered our opposition and there only ever looked like one way the match was going to end (considering Sunderland didn’t have a single goal attempt all game!). Our semi-final win against Barcelona last season was probably the last time we tingled in the stands and before that, I can’t remember a time.
It felt so good because we knew our defence wasn’t up to the task but we had got away with it. It felt so good because we’d spent twenty minutes of the match in the losing position. It felt so good because we were contemplating our third defeat on the trot. It felt so good because this lad is just 17-years-old and just achieved what we could only dream of. It felt so good because we were missing so many key players and still managed to get the required result. It felt so good because we knew we were top of the table again.
After the final whistle Neville walked with purpose towards the Stretford End, pumping his fists and shouting. There was a sense of this is the day, this is the day that defines our season, just like at Goodison Park a couple of seasons before. Liverpool put the pressure on us and we responded to it, against all odds at times.
So, on Saturday afternoon when I heard Liverpool had scored a late winner I felt shit. They hadn’t slipped up so neither could we. However, it had to feel so much worse for them yesterday. They had to believe that everything was falling in to place. With ten minutes to go they were experiencing a dream weekend. Then it was all taken away from them and they were back to square one, with United still in control. They have just seven games until the end of the season and are a point behind having played a game more.
Can Manchester United score? They always score. And don’t you forget it!