Saturday, May 14, 2011
Manchester United : Champion... Again
Manchester United came to Blackburn to rain on Manchester City's parade, not produce a damp squib of their own, but until the softest of penalty decisions came to their rescue in the 73rd minute they were in danger of stealing a cue from their rivals and fluffing their lines. The 19th title duly arrived in the end, and although this was hardly the most stirring manner in which to clinch it, it seemed to suit United's strangely stuttering season. It will make no difference to the history books, or the United celebrations.
Blackburn spent the first 20 minutes struggling to get out of their own half, although it turned out they were just lulling their opponents into a false sense of security. No sooner had United been given the impression that all they had to do was use unlimited possession to break down a massed defence than Blackburn launched a few attacks of their own.
For all the visitors's early dominance the best chance they created was in the fourth minute when Nani put a header against the bar from Wayne Rooney's cross, yet despite Blackburn seeing much less of the ball they managed to make their rare upfield excursions count. Chris Samba had already scooped a shot over the bar and Jason Roberts just failed to take advantage of Tomasz Kuszczak's hesitation in dealing with a back pass by the time a decisive strike by Brett Emerton put the home side in front. Once again the substitute United goalkeeper looked nervous and uncertain, first failing to deal with Emerton's original cross then needlessly leaving his line in a vain attempt to recover the ball. Blackburn successfully prevented it from going out, then when Martin Olsson whipped in a low cross Emerton was still in position to sidefoot home with Jonny Evans unable to make an effective challenge.
No matter, there were still 70 minutes of the game left and plenty of time for the famous United cavalry charge, yet although the champions-elect stayed commendably calm and unhurried on going behind, Paul Robinson only had one save to make before the interval, tipping an effort from Javier Hernández round the post fairly comfortably. After an hour had passed without Robinson being asked to do much more, Sir Alex Ferguson responded to the United supporters's chant of "attack, attack attack" by sending on Paul Scholes for the disappointing Fábio da Silva and switching Antonio Valencia to right back. Scholes's first act was to kick Morten Gamst Pederesen up in the air, which was not the sort of attack Ferguson wanted to see, and neither was the Blackburn one that culminated in Olsson striking a post from Emerton's cross when a goal looked certain.
United got lucky in the end when Robinson rashly brought down Hernández to concede a hotly disputed penalty. There was little doubt the goalkeeper made contact with the Mexican rather than the ball, but that was largely because Hernández had all but knocked the ball dead and had little hope of reaching it.
It would be harsh to say he was playing for the penalty but he was certainly moving away from goal, and although technically the assistant Phil Dowd consulted was correct in affirming contact had taken place, one could fully understand the Rovers players's protestations.
Rooney scored emphatically from the spot to bring United level, and did his best to put the matter beyond doubt two minutes later with a perfect cross from which Nani somehow conjured a miss in front of goal.
Only then did Ferguson send on Dimitar Berbatov, who scored five in the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford. He was unable to score here, United settling for keep-ball in the last 10 minutes and Blackburn content with a point, but the only score that finally mattered, as several banners in the Darwen End pointed out, was 19-18 to United