Back from the brink

Sanchez’s last-gasp win­ner seals United fight­back with Mour­inho’s fu­ture on the line

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - James Ducker NORTH­ERN FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Old Traf­ford

For a sig­nif­i­cant part of this match, it did not just feel like Manch­ester United’s play­ers had given up play­ing for Jose Mour­inho, it felt as though they had stopped play­ing foot­ball al­to­gether. They were a lost cause.

New­cas­tle were two goals up in­side ten min­utes, Eric Bailly was dragged off soon af­ter and, de­spite the pre-match re­as­sur­ances from in­side Old Traf­ford that Mour­inho was not about to get sacked, the Por­tuguese ap­peared to be gear­ing up to col­lect his P45. It felt like the endgame, the point of no re­turn.

And then, with 20 min­utes left, Juan Mata scored, the home fans stirred, An­thony Mar­tial found the equaliser and, as the clock struck 90, Mour­inho and his men were toast­ing a win­ner from Alexis Sanchez to com­plete a come­back ev­ery bit as re­mark­able as a first half in which they were for­tu­nate not to be blown away was ram­shackle.

Think the Eti­had Sta­dium in April when Manch­ester United came from two goals down at half-time to win 3-2 against Manch­ester City and you get an idea of how this game played out. That match would not prove the cat­a­lyst to big­ger and bet­ter things that United sup­port­ers hoped it would so there may be an un­der­stand­able re­luc­tance to her­ald this as the mo­ment the club turned its sea­son around, par­tic­u­larly as Mour­inho ad­mit­ted his team were not cop­ing well with the “man-hunt­ing” against them.

But this was a time to sim­ply en­joy a mo­ment of vic­tory. “I’m sorry, boys,” Mour­inho said as he en­tered his post­match press con­fer­ence, a sar­cas­tic jibe at the peo­ple he feels have it in for him. Yet any­one doubt­ing the man­ager’s de­sire to be at the club need only watch how he dropped to his knees in the 88th minute, shortly be­fore Sanchez scored, and willed, al­most begged Mar­tial to chase down a ball he had given up on, or how he cel­e­brated the Chilean’s dra­matic win­ner.

Would a bet­ter team have killed off Mour­inho’s men be­fore Mata be­gan the fight­back with a de­li­cious free-kick and Sanchez com­pleted it with a goal his flag­ging con­fi­dence badly needed? They cer­tainly can­not ex­pect to de­fend so sham­bol­i­cally away to Chelsea af­ter the in­ter­na­tional break.

With more com­po­sure, New­cas­tle could eas­ily have sported a 3-0 lead at the in­ter­val and Yoshi­nori Muto will cer­tainly rue a missed header from close range. For­get all the talk about anti-foot­ball, for the first 20 min­utes es­pe­cially this was non-foot­ball from the home side. They have been poor this term but the first half was what rock bot­tom looks like.

Mour­inho is no stranger to mak­ing early sub­sti­tu­tions, but whether he was try­ing to make an­other state­ment to his board about their fail­ure to sign a cen­tre-half in the sum­mer or not, few could blame him for with­draw­ing Bailly af­ter just 19 min­utes and putting on Mata. He cer­tainly had the back­ing of the fans who chanted: “Jose’s right, the board are s----” and who sang Gary Neville’s name in a pointed ref­er­ence to their for­mer player’s fierce crit­i­cism of ex­ec­u­tive vice-chair­man Ed Wood­ward’s han­dling of the club.

What was cu­ri­ous, though, was Mour­inho’s de­ci­sion to drop mid­fielder Scott McTom­i­nay into cen­tral de­fence in Bailly’s place and, if any­thing, the young­ster was even more chaotic than Bailly had been – “scared to play” as his boss later claimed. McTom­i­nay did not emerge for the sec­ond half but Ne­manja Matic – as bad here as he was against West Ham – fared no bet­ter in de­fence. Mour­inho has built a ca­reer on co­he­sive, or­gan­ised back lines but this lot were a rab­ble.

Both of New­cas­tle’s goals orig­i­nated from throw-ins that the home side failed ab­jectly to deal with. For the first, Matic, out of po­si­tion, al­lowed a throw to by­pass him and gifted Ay­oze Perez the free­dom to surge for­ward into a huge open space and feed Kenedy who cut in­side Ash­ley Young with ease and stroked the ball past David De Gea.

It soon got worse. Rather than mark Jonjo Shelvey from a throw-in him­self, Mar­tial was ask­ing some­one else to do his job for him and, with time and space, the New­cas­tle mid­fielder crossed, Bailly failed to clear and the ball dropped to Muto, who spun Young be­fore blast­ing a shot in the mid­dle of De Gea’s net for his first New­cas­tle goal.

The vis­i­tors were bet­ter in ev­ery depart­ment, this a team who went into the game sec­ond bot­tom with just four goals from seven games, and only two saves from De Gea to deny Muto and Shelvey kept United in it.

Mour­inho needed some­thing, any­thing, but when op­por­tu­nity knocked, Mar­cus Rash­ford fluffed his lines, head­ing Romelu Lukaku’s su­perb cross wide. The Por­tuguese com­mented af­ter­wards that the Eng­land striker is “sad”. His per­for­mance re­flected it.

It was not the worst miss of the day, though. That be­longed to Matic five min­utes af­ter the restart when he blazed over with a gap­ing goal to aim at af­ter Paul Pogba’s shot was saved.

Sud­denly United were dis­cov­er­ing some ur­gency and, with Pogba fi­nally gain­ing a foothold from deep in mid­field, New­cas­tle found them­selves pushed back. Mata’s free-kick whipped up the crowd and then Mar­tial rammed home a shot into the bot­tom cor­ner of the net af­ter stab­bing the ball to Pogba, whose back-heel re­turn was ex­quis­ite.

There was a grand­stand fin­ish to come. Young beat his man on the right and crossed. Over flew the ball and there, tim­ing his run per­fectly, was Sanchez to power home a header. How big a goal that proves to be for him, and his team, we will have to wait and see but you can sel­dom say life is dull at Manch­ester United.

Star cameo: Alexis Sanchez, a sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute, cel­e­brates with Marouane Fel­laini af­ter scor­ing the win­ning goal for Manch­ester United in the last minute yes­ter­day. United re­cov­ered from go­ing 2-0 down

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.