At approximately 8:17pm last night, United’s push for a record 19th title looked like it had grounded to an amazingly sudden halt. After being positively sublime against Birmingham on Saturday, United followed that with possibly the worse half of football played by the Red Devils this season. The score-line read a disastrous 2-0 to Blackpool, the performance felt more like it was 4-0 as Blackpool were the better team by a country mile. The punditry on ESPN (whilst obviously very anti-united) were spot on when saying how poor United were. My time-line on Twitter reflected pretty much the mood of the United fans in attendance, utter disbelief and devastation. I mentioned to one United fan on Twitter that I felt that whatever happened in the next 45 minutes could possibly define our season. I could hardly believe how right I was.
The second half comeback that followed was one of United’s performances of the season, if not the best. Not because of the football we played, or the goals we scored, but because of the attitude of the players. Those players came out, having probably just felt Hurricane Ferguson at half time, to show why we are currently top of the Premier League. The story of our season so far has been our paltry away form, not being able to hold onto leads and the inability to turn draws into wins. Although it wasn’t obvious straight away, as Blackpool went close to making it three within the first few minutes. The change in United’s fortunes, I believe, can be attributed to two moments of perfect timing by the Gaffer. The first, was bringing of Darren Gibson at half time for Ryan Giggs, making United’s formation a more fluid 4-4-2. Gibson was poor in the first half, just as was Scholes and Fletcher. He was unsuccessfully deployed to the left-wing before half time and that sealed his fate. The second, and what I feel is most important switch, came when SAF took off Wayne Rooney in the 66th minute and brought on cult hero Javier Hernandez.
There have been many an argument this season about Wayne Rooney’s form. Some believe that the fact he hasn’t scored many goals this season is testament to his poor form. Others believe his all round team play and work rate qualify as his return to form, and inevitably the goals will come. Whatever you make of Rooney’s form, Fergie has stuck by him throughout the goal drought and he has always been a mainstay in the first team. Taking him off when two down against Blackpool not only says to me ‘enough is enough’, it shows Rooney that no one is guaranteed their place. Berbatov was dragged off many a time last season when he was short of goals, yet this season Rooney has pretty much escaped that treatment. Three goals in 16 wonderful minutes seemed to show the Sir Alex had made the right choice.
So how does this define our season? Firstly, it shows that we look like we are finally entering ‘Champions’ mode. Coming back to win after being two down at half time, regardless of the opposition (and no disrespect to Blackpool meant as they were brilliant first half), is no mean feat. It shows the kind of metal that has accompanied all of SAF’s title-winning teams. It shows the ‘never say die’ attitude that all champions must show, and what this team looked like it lacked so many times in the earlier stages of the season. Secondly, I believe it shows that Sir Alex is ready to give Rooney the kick up the backside he needs to get him firing on all cylinders again. Regardless of your feelings about Rooney or Hernandez, Rooney is vital to our season. One thing Rooney hates, more than the News of the World, is not playing football. Here’s hoping that being taken off after an hour triggers some kind of reaction from the player who is England’s greatest talent. Finally, it fires a warning to the rest to the rest of the league that we are finally looking like we can put a run together. At the end of the day, points in the bag are much more important that games in hand and we now have the points on the board. The gap is looking prettier by the week and allows us a slight lapse when the Champions League comes around. The Manchester United that everyone else hates looks like its returning, just in time to stick one up our noisy neighbours in February.