Accidental hero De Gea showing his true quality
The twist of fate which saved David de Gea's season at Manchester United was actually the twist of an ankle, WRITES MARK OGDEN.
Had Anders Lindegaard not suffered a training ground injury in mid-January, the damaged ankle ligaments which continue to keep the Danish goalkeeper on the sidelines at Old Trafford, there is a good chance that De Gea's season would have ended on New Year's Eve following a calamitous performance in the 3-2 home defeat against Blackburn.
Alex Ferguson had persisted with the £18.3m Spaniard through thick-and-thin up to that point, issuing defiant statements of support for the youngster, despite an unconvincing start to life in the Premier League.
De Gea had dropped crosses, fumbled shots and allowed the tamest of efforts to squirm beneath his body and into the net. He appeared to be a dud, a misplaced gamble as successor to Edwin van der Sar, and Ferguson's decision to drop him after hinted at an extended spell in the wilderness. Some goalkeepers have been banished by Ferguson and failed to return.
Massimo Taibi, Mark Bosnich and, most brutally of all, Jim Leighton have been cut loose once the United manager has lost patience with them.
Patience and support is one thing, but when it becomes a costly indulgence, there is only one decision to be made and Ferguson admitted after promoting Lindegaard that De Gea had simply made too many mistakes.
An alarming tendency to try to save shots with his legs led to Basel's opener in Switzerland on the night United were dumped out of the Champions League and there was a sense that United's defenders had lost confidence in De Gea.
But the one quality that he has never lacked at United is bravery and that now appears to have triggered his transformation into the form goalkeeper of the Premier League.
But for De Gea's athleticism, United would have conceded four at Ewood Park last night. The same athleticism, which saw him produce a stunning save to deny Juan Mata at Chelsea, led to one of the saves of the season on 45 minutes when De Gea brilliantly palmed Marcus Olsson's 20-yard strike over the crossbar.
De Gea appeared to have left half his goal uncovered, but he somehow changed direction in mid-air to direct Olsson's effort away from goal.
Seconds later, with another dangerous Blackburn corner flying into the six-yard box, De Gea denied Grant Hanley his second goal against United this season with another fingertip save to push his header over the bar.
Earlier in the game, he had made a more routine, yet equally important, save from Junior Hoilett.
And as United toiled in the second-half prior to Antonio Valencia's stunning opener, De Gea was again United's saviour with a solid save from Morten Gamst Pedersen's powerful free-kick.
Ultimately, the game was won by Valencia's late intervention and scorer and provider for Ashley Young.
But the reality is that Blackburn would already have been out of sight but for their rising star in goal.