In United’s final game of 2011, Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers visited Old Trafford on what was Sir Alex’s 70th birthday and seemingly a perfect opportunity for the reds to end the year on a high against a side languishing at the foot of the table. A plethora of injuries have ravaged United’s squad the past few weeks, and with big games versus Newcastle and City on the horizon, an unusual team containing Park Ji Sung and Rafael as central midfielders were handed the task of granting the boss his ideal birthday present, 3 points.
Having scored 12 unanswered goals previously, United were hot favourites to continue against a Blackburn side lacking confidence, yet began the game in cautious fashion, failing to build the tempo which had brought success in recent weeks. United’s disjointed performance did little to alleviate the flat feeling around Old Trafford, and the mood quickly worsened when on 13 minutes Dimitar Berbatov brought down Chris Samba in the penalty area handing the visitors a penalty. Up stepped in form Yakubu to dispatch the spot kick past De Gea, giving the away side a rare moment to savour, and leave United with it all to do. Naturally, having acquire the lead, Blackburn were happy to sit back and absorb what United had to offer for the remainder of the half, yet the reds failed to build anything meaningful, with only Nani managing to threaten the goal in any way. A lack of creativity in the middle and a lack of movement up front combined towards a turgid half of football from United, who found themselves a goal behind and at the mercy of a Ferguson hairdryer treatment at half time.
After a quiet first half, the second brought the game to life with a bang in 2 remarkable minutes of football. With just 6 minutes on the clock after the restart, Rovers doubled their lead, as Michael Carrick’s block fell to Yakubu, who burst into the area and toe poked under De Gea leaving United with a huge mountain to climb in order to salvage the points. However, the reds response was immediate, and within 1 minute of finding themselves 2 goals behind, the deficit was halved as Berbatov latched onto Rafael’s shot/cross to steer United back into the game. With the crowd now roaring the team on, Blackburn looked to be wilting under the wave of pressure, and the equaliser soon followed, as Antonio Valencia surged down to the byline, before cutting back for Berbatov to notch his second of the game and surely set up a siege on the Blackburn goal in the closing stages.
Having found the equaliser however, United struggled to capitalise upon their momentum as the clock ticked down and with it the 3 points which would send the reds clear at the top. A remarkable game took another astonishing turn on the 80th minute, as Rovers snatched a 3rd goal through Grant Hanley, who nodded home after some costly indecisiveness from De Gea in the United goal, leaving United 10 minutes to salvage a solitary point from what was seemingly a position to win the game. There was to be no late salvo from an insipid United, who succumbed to their second home defeat of the season, and granted Blackburn odds wise the greatest upset in Premier League history. Fortunately, the reds have been reprieved by other results this weekend, as Chelsea, Spurs and Man City all failed to capitalise by dropping points. Next up for United, a trip to St James’ Park to face Newcastle United.
DDG – 3 Culpable for 2 of 3 goals, disappointing day at the office.
Valencia – 7 United bright spark throughout, wasted at right back.
Carrick – 5 Bullied by Yakubu.
Jones – 6 Struggled to cope with Yakubu and without some guidance alongside him.
Evra – 5 Defensive lapses crept back into game.
Nani – 6 Continually threatened but failed to deliver.
Rafael – 5 Demonstrated he is not a central midfielder.
Park – 4 Likewise Rafael, outplayed by average Blackburn midfield.
Welbeck – 5 Struggled on the left but improved when up front.
Hernandez – 3 anonymous in first half and subbed.
Berbatov – 7 MOTM 2 classy finishes, bang in form.
Anderson – 6 Injected some urgency into performance.
Keane – 6 Promising cameo.