Manchester United produced a stunning second half comeback to secure a win at Blackpool last night and move five points clear at the head of the Premier League table. Coming from two behind to win with three second half goals, the seaside trip demonstrated the very best in United’s sheer determination to win.
Dimitar Berbatov scored twice and substitute Javier Hernández another in the final 18 minutes of a pulsating fixture. But three valuable points cannot obscure one of the most disorganised performances from the Reds this season in a disastrous first half at Bloomfield Road.
Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson is entitled to feel both proud and highly concerned about his side’s performance against the newly promoted Tangerines. Second best during the first 45, United could well have been out of the tie before referee Peter Walton blew for half-time.
Yet, with Wayne Rooney unceremoniously hauled off by Ferguson with 25 minutes to go United produced some thrilling football to take the points in a game that largely mirrored the Reds’ inconsistent season.
“I know the game’s never done in situations like today,” Ferguson told ESPN, who focused on the positives to come out of United’s performance.
“You know at some point we’re going to do something. You’ll get games like tonight. Maybe sometimes we won’t come back but we’ll always try to come back.
“In the first half we were battered. We couldn’t handle Charlie Adam. We were terrible. I don’t know the reason for the first half. We were all over the place. Maybe we were too confident.
“We changed at half-time, Ryan Giggs made a tremendous difference. We started to penetrate and I think we were deserved winners in the end.”
Over confidence perhaps but the United manager must surely take some blame for the disjointed nature of United’s performance during the first half. Deploying the recalled Darron Gibson, alongside Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher in a three-man midfield, proved a near disastrous selection. And with Rooney wide left, United struggled to defend with any shape, let alone attack with purpose.
For all United’s superstars it was want-away Scot Charlie Adam that dominated the opening period. The former Rangers midfielder was at the heart of a vibrant attacking performance from Ian Holloway’s side, which was ahead inside 15 minutes. Adam’s set-piece delivery allowed former Red Craig Cathcart to lose his marker and head past ‘keeper Edwin van der Sar.
Further goals nearly followed in quick succession, with captain Nemanja Vidic almost putting into his own net before Elliot Grandin fired over from 10 yards out. The midfielder should have done much better.
Then Van der Sar superbly saved David Vaughan’s shot just before the break only for DJ Campbell to head home Adam’s subsequent corner. The two goal lead was everything Blackpool deserved for a superb performance.
If United was lethargic, complacent and casual, the hosts were everthing that is good about Holloway’s management. Indeed, if Adam was the star, United could boast only Gibson, whose time at the club has brought little in the way of consistency save for regular mediocrity.
Yet if Ferguson was culpable for his side’s selection and tactics the manager also gained much credit for United’s turnaround. Swapping veteran Ryan Giggs for Gibson at half time brought at immediate sense of endeavor and urgency. Replacing the woeful Rooney with Hernández effectively won United the game.
United went close from Scholes and then Nani before two goals inside five second half minutes turned the game around in the Reds’ favour. First Berbatov turned in Fletcher’s centre from close range with 20 minutes to go, then with Blackpool barely regrouped Hernández superbly struck from Giggs’ through-ball. If the Mexican cannot gain a regular first team birth on this evidence it is an injustice.
If all the momentum was now with the visitors not once did Blackpool cave in, with Holloway’s side content to push men forward to very last. It proved the hosts’ undoing though as Berbatov scored the winner with two minutes to go. The Bulgarian lashed home past Richard Kingson from Scholes’ pass to earn a seemingly unlikely win.
Ferguson reserved praise for his goalscorers, although in the privacy of the dressing room United’s players must surely be in no doubt how close they came to a first defeat of the Premier League season.
“His [Hernández'] pace and timing of the runs is fantastic. He’s so good at that. He could have scored four goals. He’s made a tremendous impact.
“[Berbatov is] having a great season. He has great talent. The third goal, the composure, I was screaming for him to square it to Chicharito but, no, he has the confidence and ability to do what he did.”
Indeed, the Bulgarian claimed that his team was always confident of victory. Empty words perhaps but a sign that Ferguson’s drive is deeply ingrained even on the sometimes lethargic forward.
“We’re always confident that if we can score one we can score more and that was the case today. We fight like a team. In the second half we showed spirit and we won,” said the striker, who has now scored 19 times in an increasing fruitful season
”You come here, it’s not a friendly ground. The pitch is not as ours back home at Old Trafford. ‘Blackpool played a very good game and scored goals, they could easily have scored more in the first half.
”In the end it was the team spirit that won the game.”
The systemic problems in United’s squad aside, it is that same team spirit that may just bring a 19th Premier League title. But as so often this season, United surely must perform better than this when key matches come round in the Spring.
Blackpool – 433 – Kingson; Eardley, Evatt, Baptiste, Cathcart; Vaughan, Grandin, Adam; Taylor-Fletcher (Harewood 74), Varney (Phillips 68), Campbell.
United – 433 – Van der Sar; Rafael (Anderson 80), Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Scholes, Fletcher, Gibson (Giggs 46); Nani, Berbatov, Rooney (Hernandez 66).
Attendance – 15,574
Man of the Match – Berbatov
Possession: Blackpool 48% – 52% United
Attempts: 6 – 17
On Target: 2 – 4
Corners:6 – 8
Fouls: 11 – 10