Berbatov double puts seal on United recovery
MAN UTD 3
If they are looking for a new white-knuckle ride to tempt adrenaline junkies to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, they should call it the Manchester United Experience and warn of being left dazed and confused before an unexpected late twist.
Nobody does late drama quite like Sir Alex Ferguson’s league leaders. From Turin to Barcelona and now Blackpool, United have displayed a remarkable ability to pull something from the fire when it appears most unlikely.
And having been outplayed for 70 minutes by Ian Holloway’s Blackpool, trailing 2-0 to a determined team of under-estimated professionals punching above their weight, United somehow emerged from Bloomfield Road with a victory that extended their unbeaten Premier League run to 28 games and moved Ferguson’s squad five points clear of the pack.
United should be reaching for the headache tablets to cure a nasty hangover this morning, but they might now be putting the champagne on ice after two late goals from Dimitar Berbatov and one from Javier Hernandez completed a stunning fightback and secured a potentially pivotal victory in the race for the title.
But it could, and probably should, have been so different for United. Blackpool did not deserve to suffer their sixth defeat in seven league games.
Bolton, Aston Villa and West Brom (twice) have all tested United’s chin this season, only for them to stagger back to their feet with a late response in each game.
Blackpool took United to the brink, though, and while Ferguson will be concerned by the abject first-half performance of many of his players, their second-half response bore the hallmark of champions.
Holloway’s team did as their manager had promised, though, and they rattled United from the start by pressing high up the pitch and tormenting the leaders with Charlie Adam, clearly untroubled by the transfer speculation surrounding him, tearing United apart with his raking passes.
United simply could not settle and Blackpool deservedly took the lead on 15 minutes when Craig Cathcart, a £500,000 buy from Old Trafford last summer, scored his first goal for the club.
It was a goal United should never have conceded. Adam’s corner was allowed to find Cathcart at the far post and, having lost his marker Berbatov, the Northern Irishman scored with a header from three yards.
United rocked and they were all at sea as Blackpool poured forward in numbers. Edwin van der Sar had to react quickly to prevent a Nemanja Vidic own goal from Adam’s cross before Elliot Grandin wastefully skied Luke Varney’s cross over the bar.
Van der Sar then pushed David Vaughan’s 25-yard shot behind for a corner, but more shambolic defending by United led to DJ Campbell scoring from the in-swinging corner delivered by Adam, who made a mockery of Liverpool’s £4 million offer for his services with his performance.
Darron Gibson’s attempted near post clearance from Adam’s inadvertently flew to Campbell, whose far post header made it 2-0, two minutes before half-time.
His involvement in Blackpool’s goal summed up Gibson’s poor display and he was unsurprisingly replaced by Ryan Giggs at half-time. It proved to be a crucial change by Ferguson, but surely the United manager must be concerned that his team continue to rely on the brilliance of a 37 year-old?
Initially, the Welshman made little difference as Blackpool continued as they had left off before the break.
And only referee Peter Walton will know why he failed to award the home side a penalty on 50 minutes following Rafael’s rash challenge on Varney inside the six yard box.
How United were missing the experience and assurance of Rio Ferdinand alongside Vidic at centre-half. Chris Smalling is clearly a bright prospect, but he will not to experience many more nights like this.
Still, he wasn’t the only United player who failed to deliver. Wayne was equally off the pace and he was substituted in favour of Hernandez on 67 minutes as Ferguson desperately looked for a route back into the game.
Rooney’s work-rate and endeavour could not be questioned, but his goal touch is becoming a distant memory.
Hernandez is filling the void left by Rooney’s goal drought, however, and the Mexican, who has already rescued United at Stoke and West Brom this season, played his part in another salvage mission at Bloomfield Road.
The pendulum began to swing United’s favour on 72 minutes, when Berbatov gave United a foothold by volleying in Darren Fletcher’s cross from two yards.
It gave United belief and injected fear into Blackpool and the visitors capitalised further when Hernandez sprung the offside trap to receive Giggs’s pass before beating Kingson with a clinical finish from 18 yards.
A third United goal seemed inevitable, but their progress was halted when the game was stopped for several minutes in order for Rafael to be stretchered off after landing awkwardly.
Ferguson’s team regained their composure, though, and Berbatov secured a dramatic victory by racing onto Paul Scholes’s pass before prodding the ball underneath Kingson.
Another late twist, another dramatic victory. In May, this could be the result that United view as the one that set them on course for their 19th league championship.