Monday, May 20, 2013

The Final Curtain Call: Manchester United 5 - West Bromwich Albion 5

Photo by Trinity on Flickr

Manchester United said goodbye to Sir Alex Ferguson after one of the wildest games of the season, a contest in which the Champions twice saw three goal leads pegged back by the home side.  While the Reds will regret not sending out their Manager a winner on a sunny day at the Hawthorne's, the ten goal tribute to the legendary Manager was a day which United fans and neutrals alike will long remember.

If the pre-match atmosphere inside the stadium was rousing, the opening ten minutes of football was equal to the occasion: Shinji Kagawa heading a Chicharito cross into the net to give United an early 1-0 lead on the afternoon.  Although the combination play occurred in the opposite order that most observers would have expected, Kagawa headed the ball down and past West Brom 'keeper Ben Foster like an old pro.

Five minutes later and the lead was 2-0 after Jonas Olsson deflected Antonio Valencia's cross into his own net. The wing play was the type United fans wished they had seen more of this season, with the Ecuadorian beating his man before driving the ball low and hard toward goal.

After the initial rush, played inevitably slowed down, although Chicharito should have punished West Brom once more in the 24th minute when he missed a delicious opportunity to head United to a third score on the afternoon.   Alexander Buttner didn't miss his opportunity, through, and the third goal arrived before the half hour mark, with Tom Cleverley feeding in the left back at the top of the six yard box. Beating Foster was easy enough from that point, and the disgusted West Brom 'keeper was forced to pluck the ball from the back of his net once again.

As if finally awakening from a pre-game nap, the third goal caused West Brom to snap into action -- with James Morrison slotting home in front of Phil Jones to pull one third of the deficit back five minutes before half time. While Javier Hermandez continued to bedevil the West Brom defense, Foster's acrobatics at one end and Jonny Evans challenge on Shane Long at the other kept the scoreline at 3-1 as the teams headed to the locker rooms.

The home side continued the pressing defense that brought them back into the match, and when second half substitute Romelu Lukaku beat Anders Lindegaard to the far post to pull back another goal, the din in the stadium was quickly returned to its pre-game level.

Both sides looked in the mood as the game became stretched not even five minutes into the second half, and it was none other than the fans' Player of the Season Robin van Persie who re-directed Valencia's cutback past Foster to restore the visitors' two goal cushion at 4-2.

Ryan Giggs replaced Cleverley for the last 30 minutes of Sir Alex's managerial career, the Welshman not coming on for sentimental reasons but to settle the game down instead. Giggs had an immediate impact on the game, picking out the ever-present Hernandez in front of the visitors goal for a tap in to make it five goals for United on the day, and the 50th for Chicharito in his young United career.  While United celebrated their fifth goal of the afternoon, it would prove to be a bit early.

Olssen missed from point blank range as a remarkably open game continued to play out.   Paul Scholes ran out on the pitch one last time, replacing the effective  Kagawa, and -- somewhat endearingly -- laid down a characteristically mistimed a tackle almost immediately.

Lukaku came within inches of his second goal of the afternoon, stroking the ball just wide of the net, while the deflection off Buttner's shot hit the cross bar at the other end, with the United defender narrowly missing a brace of his own.

While Buttner never got his brace, Lukaku did, in the 81st minute -- with the goal followed in very short order by Patrice Lumumbu's first: the score now 5-4 and United hanging on for dear life at the Hawthornes with eight minutes left to play. Rio Ferdinand was brought on to stem the flood and try to see out the victory -- an unlikely defensive substitution being Sir Alex's last roll of the dice.

Lukaku's third tied up the game in the 86th minute, as Sir Alex's finale was undone by sloppy defense and shaky goalkeeping; the United team from the early part of the season back in full form for the bosses' final bow.

This is farlieonfootie offering a heartfelt good bye and thank you to Sir Alex Ferguson on May 20.

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