independent

Friday 18 April 2014

United give Harry lesson in how to stage comeback

Watching from the main stand, Harry Redknapp will have learned at least one useful lesson. He might think carefully in the future about sending on Anton Ferdinand as a defensive substitute, since after resisting Manchester United stoutly for an hour, Queens Park Rangers conceded three times in the eight minutes that immediately followed Ferdinand taking over from the injured Armand Traore.

Alex Ferguson, for his part, may have learned that time is now catching up with Paul Scholes, who was ineffective for an hour, picked up his habitual caution for a poor tackle, and was replaced shortly after QPR took a shock lead. Taking a shock lead was of course the worst thing the visitors could have done, with United specialising in chasing games this season, yet short of waiting until the 89th minute to score it is difficult to know what opponents ought to try. Ferguson acknowledged that Norwich had been the better team for the whole 90 minutes last week, though not too many sides will be able to match that.

"We have to be concerned at the number of times we are giving teams leads," Ferguson said. "Though you have to say we fought back with great determination. For 15 minutes we were terrific, but that was all. For the rest of the game we were lethargic, a bit careless with our passing, and the game was slow. We're better than that, as we were finally able to show.

"Of course it is frustrating that we keep ending up in that position but when they scored it definitely sparked us up. Once we started to play there was no question who was going to win."

The first half was a dismal affair, which might have been enlivened had Jamie Mackie's headed goal from Djibril Cisse's excellent cross been allowed to stand instead of being disallowed, correctly, for the narrowest of offsides. United going behind just before the interval to QPR's only attack of the half might have been just the thing to wake them up.

While the number of times they have come from behind to win games this season has been well documented, United now appear to be entering a phase where unless they go behind they cannot summon any urgency.

Either that or Scholes is finally getting too old, for there was nothing clicking in a United midfield that looked short of ideas. Not since Ray Wilkins left have United moved sideways so often to such little effect, and though Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck were playing just behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie the home side's wealth of attacking talent struggled to make any impact. Rooney had a couple of shots saved in the first half but nothing Julio Cesar needed to worry too much about, and apart from two decent pull-backs by Welbeck that went to waste the best United could muster were penalty claims by Scholes and Young. Both were turned down, though both had decent cases, with Young possibly suffering from his reputation.

If United expected to improve in the second half their plans received a jolt when Mackie put the ball into the net again just seven minutes after the restart, and this time it counted. United had produced nothing of note after half-time, yet when QPR won a rare corner to gain upfield position they took full advantage. Kieron Dyer's shot from a narrow angle was only parried by Anders Lindegaard, and Mackie, in the six-yard box, could not miss.

Ferguson's response was to withdraw Scholes and Young, sending on Anderson and Javier Hernandez in their place. The game was not transformed immediately, but once United had levelled from a set-piece just after an hour, it settled into a familiar pattern with the bit now between the home side's teeth and the urgency and attacking fluency magically restored.

Jonny Evans scored first, after Welbeck had headed down from Rooney's corner, then five minutes later Rooney's next corner was met emphatically by Darren Fletcher on the six yard line. Old Trafford was on its feet in true rapture three minutes after that, when Ferguson's two substitutes combined for a goal of genuine class from Hernandez, which just goes to show what three goals in eight minutes can do to lift spirits. Just before Evans headed in, there had been audible groans of discontent from the home supporters, yet United finished the day back on top of the table.

Ferguson also reflected warmly upon Fletcher's goal, which was his first in the Premier League in 13 months as he made his first start in the competition for a year following his illness. "Everyone is delighted," Ferguson said. "It has been a long road back for him. It is the first time he has played twice in one week. He didn't let us down again. He never does.

"It is lovely to have him back like that. We will look at Wednesday but he has made a great contribution today."

Fletcher was characteristically modest about his goal. "The only thing it meant was that it put us in front," he said. "It is great coming back and scoring, but you want to be on winning teams."

Observer

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