One has to wonder if God wears red, black & white?
ONE of the oldest sporting cliches is that there’s no room for comment in the results column. Just as well, if you happen to follow the fortunes of Manchester United.
It has become common practice for United to pull a rabbit out of the hat when all seems forlorn. Throughout their domination of the English Premiership, late goals have ensured United’s points tally keeps ticking over.
The habit has also extended to the European stage, the most famous example being the two injurytime goals by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final turning around what seemed a certain 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 celebration. So unlikely was the comeback that even that United legend, George Best, left the Nou Camp before the end of the game to drown his sorrows.
The “Late Goal Syndrome” can be traced back to 1993 when United found themselves 2-1 down against Sheffield Wednesday. With Alex Ferguson imploring his men to charge forward in the search of an equaliser, in came a cross and central defender Steve Bruce headed home to make it 2-2 with time up on the clock. A matter of a minute later and United had taken home maximum points... another desperate Bruce header bulging the net.
This season so far United have benefited five times from goals that have come after the 90 minutes is up and the game has headed into the referee’s optional time. Once Ferguson analyses things he might feel that his recent outpourings of rage directed at the whistlemen – “not fit enough to keep up with play,”… “not experienced enough to handle the occasion,”… “the worst penalty decision I have ever seen” – might not sit well with the number of times his team has benefited. Already this season: Chelsea looked to have the Community Shield in the Stamford Bridge cabinet when leading 2-1 with time up. Wayne Rooney appeared in the 92nd minute to ensure a share of the silverware.
Admittedly the game was already in the bag when Nani scored in the 92nd minute to complete a 5-0 rout over Wigan.
With time running out against a difficult CSKA Moscow in their Champions League group match, Antonio Valencia pounced in the 86th minute for the winner.
Manchester City’s Craig Bellamy had equalised at 3-3 in a frenzied Manchester derby before the board showed six extra minutes at Old Trafford. Those six minutes had already elapsed when Michael Owen found the net to win the game 4-3 for the champions.
Sunderland had come to Old Trafford and were looking good value for a shock victory when leading 2-1 with the match headed into the referee’s optional period. Four extra minutes elapsed when Anton Ferdinand’s own goal rescued a point for United.
An adventurous CSKA Moscow arrived at Old Trafford determined to show their performance against United (above) had not been a flash in the pan. They were leading their Champions League group match 3-1 with six minutes remaining. Paul Scholes headed home what appeared to be an 84th minute consolation goal, but three minutes into added time Valencia’s shot took a deflection off Shchennikov to rescue the night at 3-3 and ensure United progressed into the knockout stages of the competition.
Ferguson (Now SIR Alex) and the United fans will say these late goals come because opponents try to sit on their leads and therefore when United go forward, the opposition defends deeper in their own half – and consequently they spring a leak.
But it happens so often that the rest of the English Premiership (and much of Europe) must be wondering if God wears red, black and white.