There were many remarkable aspects to Manchester United’s victory at Norwich City on Sunday: Ryan Giggs’ goal on his 900th appearance for the club; a last-minute winner; the combined age of the Reds’ goalscorers; that United had, for so long, been under the cosh.
Yet, there is a reason United score so many late goals, and win plenty of seemingly unwinnable games. Call it the ‘United way’ if you will; a spirit that is driven by Sir Alex Ferguson’s indomitable gambling ethos. The 70-year-old manager may have softened as the years rolled by, but there are few in the game prepared to risk all for win in quite the same way.
Once again this paid dividends at Carrow Road in the past weekend.
This spirit is replete in United’s weekend goalscorers – Giggs and Paul Scholes. On his 900th appearance for the club Giggs danced around the Carrow Road pitch like a 17-year-old freshman after slotting home with seconds to go. Youngster Phil Jones and then the rest of United’s players joined in the wild celebrations. This was a win, as Ferguson put it after the game, that could be very special indeed.
The players’ celebration reflected both United’s escape and the victory’s importance. In a season when Manchester City seemingly do not want to win the title, three unlikely points gained at Carrow Road could well be central to a 20th domestic title come May. Indeed, Norwich are not comfortably safe from relegation by accident – this is a solid Premier League team that has troubled top clubs more than once this season. In the context of a game in which, by all accounts, United again demonstrated its fallibility, victory will provide a significant confidence boost.
Not for the first time in Ferguson’s 25 years at United’s manager, victory came without justification. But what was lacking in quality on the day, was recovered in spirit. Scholes’ late run into the box to score United’s opening goal was reminiscent of the midfielder 15 years ago. Meanwhile, Giggs’ last-minute goal was reward for United piling forward in search of the winner in the last five minutes.
“There is no point drawing games so we were throwing everyone forward going for that goal, and I am sure we will do the same thing again,” 37-year-old Scholes told MUTV.
“Of course, three points instead of one is a big difference. That is what we are here to do. We realise we may have to win every game to win the league, but we are ready and prepared to do that.”
United’s victory keeps the gap at the top of the Premier League to just two points with 12 games to go. Given United’s horrendous injury record this season, together with no small measure of inexperienced players in Ferguson’s side, it is a remarkable position. City’s sovereign wealth and undoubted talent should, all things being equal, take the Blues to a first title since 1967.
But, with Ferguson at United’s helm, all things are never equal. Norwich’s deserved equaliser provoked a response like no other, with United throwing six or more players forward with every attack.
“We know how important a time it is, City put pressure on us yesterday and we knew we had to win,” said Giggs, whose goal came not only on his 900th appearance for the club but almost 19 years since he scored against the Canaries in 1993.
“Right through the squad – for all the time I’ve been here – we’ve always had that ability to not give in and score late goals. To play 900 games for this club, who I’ve grown up supporting, is special – it’s a great day for me. I am sure there will be more twists and turns in the title race and I expect more drama and late goals.”
Ferguson was understandably delighted with the win and Giggs’ contribution on the Welshman’s big day. More importantly though, the Scot knows that United’s ability to win, despite the performance, is a quality that could still secure the title. For all Roberto Mancini’s resources, City cannot yet make a similar claim.
“For a player to play for one club for 900 games is exceptional and it won’t be done again,” added the United manager.
“He deserved that goal for his service to the club. He’s had an amazing career and he’s an amazing man. It could pove very special, but for Ryan to score the winning goal with the last kick of the ball on his 900th game, well, he probably deserves that for the career he’s had.
“We won’t get nervous, that’s for sure. We’re used to being in this situation. You saw that when we conceded an equaliser. How did we react? We started playing again and got the winner. Everyone knows we never give in. No matter who plays us, they know they will have to battle right to the death.”
United was lucky against the better team perhaps, but there is no accident in the Reds’ ability to drags results out of frustrating performances. And while much of the talk post game centred on the apparent ‘complacency’ of Ferguson’s side after Scholes had nodded in the game’s opening goal, focus must surely be laid on the Scot’s ability to build something greater than the sum of its parts.
This is a United side shorn of too much stardust, but still able to create a result out of nothing; to turn poor performances into points on the board. And in Scholes and Giggs – combined age 75 – Ferguson has two players that demonstrate this if nothing else.
This is far from Ferguson’s greatest United side, but two of his finest players will once again perform a major part in the season’s dénouement.
“Scholes and Giggs are the best players this club has ever had,” concluded Ferguson post match.
It is a sentiment that is hard to counter.