Young stays on his feet to earn United redemption
DURING his time as Everton manager, David Moyes may well have heard how a trip to Stoke City proved a significant turning point in his old club's fortunes in the mid-1980s.
Howard Kendall was under severe pressure when Everton visited Stoke for an FA Cup third-round tie in 1984 but emerged 2-0 winners on an afternoon when the manager opened the dressing-room windows to let his players hear the noise of the travelling supporters.
Everton went on to lift the cup, kick-starting an era of success, and United's own 2-0 victory at Stoke in the League Cup quarter-final on Wednesday had, in its own way, the feel of a potential catalyst after the champions came -- quite literally -- through a storm, roared on by the supporters who took over the Marston's Pedigree Stand.
As Patrice Evra, scorer of the clinching second goal, put it afterwards: "The conditions were not easy but you could feel the Manchester United spirit coming back."
It certainly seemed a cathartic experience for Ashley Young as a night when almost-Biblical hailstones halted play was lit up by a thunderbolt from the England winger, his ferocious opening strike bringing him his first United goal for 19 months.
"It is a long time since I scored -- you saw how much it meant to me from my celebrations," said Young, who offered a welcome reminder of the fine footballing talent obscured by his reputation as a serial diver.
The way he kicked an advertising board and celebrated with the United fans -- the same supporters who had cheered his substitution against Shakhtar Donetsk eight days earlier -- spoke of a great weight lifted yet, in fairness, it was one he had brought upon himself.
In September, Moyes reprimanded him publicly after he dived to win a penalty against Crystal Palace's Kagisho Dikgacoi, and another theatrical tumble against Real Sociedad in the Champions League brought further criticism.
It is nothing new -- Alex Ferguson dropped him in spring 2012 for two high-profile tumbles in a week -- and it is unlikely to go away given Young's lack of penitence when asked about it recently. "I think it's one to ask the referees," he replied.
Even on Wednesday, there was an early overreaction to a nudge from Stoke's Geoff Cameron but the hope for United, and perhaps even England, is that Young's goal will lead to him rediscovering the best of himself after a largely underwhelming time since his £17m arrival from Aston Villa in 2011.
"I want to get back to playing," added the 28-year-old. "I am like everyone else in the squad. I want to play every week. Hopefully I have given the manager some more food for thought."
As for his team, Young thinks that winning the League Cup -- where United face Sunderland in the semi-finals -- "would give us a great lift" and believes that, with three consecutive victories and clean sheets, they are finding some form. "We are building momentum now. It is an important time going into Christmas and the new year. There are so many games coming up and points to play for."
This was a view shared by Evra. "When we lost against Everton and Newcastle, it was a massive blow but we have reacted well with three wins in a row. We must not slip again because we have already done that too many times."
At Everton, Moyes twice saw his team's fortunes improve after outward-bound trips to the Lake District and the impact of United's storm-survival night in Stoke should become clearer during a festive programme which begins at home to West Ham United tomorrow before trips to Norwich and Hull and the New Year's Day visit of Tottenham.
For Evra, the acid test will actually come at Old Trafford, with the Frenchman admitting that United have a psychological barrier to cross in front of their own supporters.
They were unconvincing in beating Shakhtar 1-0 last week and Evra admitted: "We have more trouble at Old Trafford. That is where we have to show our character and our personality, and play with the Manchester United spirit.
"When we lost against Everton, in the next game against Newcastle it was obvious we looked a little bit worried. The crowd were not happy (and) it is not easy for anyone. But we play for Manchester United, we have to deal with that because we need them." (© Independent News Service)