Hero Hernandez cements spot in super sub club
Aston Villa 2
Man United 3
Javier Hernandez entered football folklore as one of the game's great substitutes with his stunning performance at Villa Park.
Since August 21, 1965, when Keith Peacock of Charlton Athletic was the first replacement used in the English League against Bolton, and Barrow's Bobby Knox became the first to score, against Wrexham, the concept of a hero coming off the bench to change the course of a game has become a romantic part of the football narrative.
Hernandez's appearances for Manchester United this season seemed destined to be less frequent, at least in the most important games, once Robin van Persie signed.
But the pace he possesses is a more than useful quality for a substitute against tiring defenders, as demonstrated with his two goals in yet another United comeback.
Hernandez, of course, has history as an impact player, first making his mark when coming on to score a late equaliser against Liverpool at Anfield in October last year.
Saturday's appearance was his 39th for United as a substitute, having made 55 starts. And Alex Ferguson has now promised that the 56th will be this Saturday at Norwich.
Ferguson has proved -- as in many other areas of management -- one of the most astute improvisers, most famously replacing Jesper Blomqvist and Andy Cole in the 1999 Champions League final with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham, who scored the last-minute goals that won the trophy.
In the days when Liverpool were still to be, in Ferguson's words, "knocked off their f***ing perch", the ginger winger David Fairclough first earned the tag of "supersub".
His many notable contributions included the winning goal against St Etienne on one of the great Anfield nights, the second leg of the 1977 European Cup quarter-final. "He will never score a more vital goal," wrote Horace Yates in the 'Liverpool Daily Post'.
Solskjaer already had a reputation as a man to make an impact even before his most famous goal in the Bayern Munich final. He eventually came off the bench exactly 150 times for United, as opposed to starting 217 games, finishing with 126 goals.
Hernandez's impact at Villa Park may not have been as spectacular as Solskjaer's four goals in 10 minutes against Nottingham Forest more than a decade ago, but it was crucial in helping claim the latest comeback win for United. The little Mexican (below) also helped ease the scrutiny that would have focused on United's defence if they had failed to claw their way back into the game.
Before this match, Ferguson claimed his team could score 100 goals this season -- and they might have to if they continue to display such a propensity to concede.
Chris Smalling, in particular, suffered a brutal examination from Villa's impressive forward Christian Benteke in only his second appearance of the season but Hernandez's devastating contribution enabled United's defence to avoid a more severe post-mortem.
United's win was their eighth in nine matches, but only two clean sheets in the league this season is a concern. Nemanja Vidic's comeback cannot come soon enough, while Phil Jones will return to training today after recovering from a knee injury.
Christian Benteke bullied Smalling to such an extent that Norwich's Grant Holt must have been licking his lips watching the highlights.
The Belgium international's performance effectively ends the debate over Darren Bent's continued non-inclusion and will hurry Villa's record signing towards an inevitable exit in the new year.
Watching Benteke humiliate Smalling to create the first goal for Andreas Weimann was stirring stuff and he was also involved for the second, in which Gabriel Agbonlahor, displaying the pace and power that was nullified by the tactics of Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish, created a second for Weimann.
But when Hernandez produced a typically well-taken finish just before the hour, there was a depressing familiarity about the outcome for Villa's supporters, who have not seen a home win over United since 1995.
The nerves were palpable and an own goal from Ron Vlaar, from Hernandez's shot, levelled it up before a low header from the substitute completed the escape act three minutes from time.
Villa's supporters will have no real complaints though. This was a world away from the moribund regime of McLeish, full of endeavour, enterprise and excitement.
Lambert's new era is showing tangible signs of progress and in Benteke he has somebody who looks a star in the making.
The Villa manager looked distraught at the end but revealed that Ferguson had given him increased confidence that their position in the table should not be a concern.
He said: "We spoke after the game and he's done that to other teams and managers. He was really complimentary, so I think everybody who was in the stadium will give us a lot of credit for what happened." (© Independent News Service)