Sunday 1 January 2017

United channel the spirit of Fergie on the great man's birthday

In front of the watching Sir Alex on his 75th birthday, United conjured a grandstand finish against Middlesbrough that became the synonymous trademark of the great man's Old Trafford tenure. 

Fergie's sides were famed for never giving in, finding a way to win and snatching improbable victories from the very jaws of defeat. 
Throw in perceived injustices at a poor refereeing decision, dogged and resilient opponents and a dollop of team spirit, and the Boro win was a throwback to the halcyon days of ten years ago. 

Grant Leadbitter put Middlesbrough ahead with 20 minutes to play - after the nonsensical decision to disallow Zlatan's goal - but United lay siege to the Boro goal and swarmed forward with wave after wave of attacks.
Ferguson often spoke of the Stretford End crowd helping to 'suck the ball over the line' and Jose alluded to similar here when he spoke of the players "bringing the fans to the pitch with them."

United never panicked, refused to lie down and our spirit, desire and courage reaped dividends as two goals in a minute from Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba earned a sixth successive win in typical United fashion. 

If anyone still doubted whether Jose was the right man to take the team forward, the dramatic and come-from-behind nature of this victory might well have proved the defining moment that those doubts disappeared. 

It was a fitting finale right out of the Ferguson vintage and should dispel the myth that Jose Mourinho had lost his magic touch.

Three minutes after Boro scored, he replaced Chris Smalling with Marcus Rashford and left United with only two out-and-out defenders on the pitch, against a dangerous counter-attacking team.
I can't remember the last time he took such a risk and is was further evidence that he has embraced 'our way' in a manner that David Moyes and Louis van Gaal never managed. 

It could have backfired but Jose wasn't afraid to change his approach and it paid off as his team rewarded the manager with an ultimately deserved victory. 

If Mourinho is back, then so are United: back to winning ways, back to pulling off unlikely comebacks, back to winning games late and back in Champions League contention.

Chelsea are surely too far gone for us to start dreaming of the title, but for the first time since Sir Alex retired three-and-a-bit seasons ago, a new year begins with excitement and optimism, rather than fear and foreboding. 

Antonio Conte's side may have surged into the title distance with 13 successive wins, but, in the background and under the radar, United have won six on the spin and travel to West Ham tomorrow in the most buoyant of moods. 

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