A single point. Saturday, lunch time kick-off, the time earmarked as the moment Manchester United would go out to Ewood Park and do the job required of them in sealing a record 19th League title and surpass Liverpool’s tally of 18.
Yet, it was very nearly not to be. A strong side having been named, Sir Alex Ferguson made sure he showed his opponents respect in not wanting to show any complacency in his squad selection, recognising that until it was mathematically true, United were in no way guaranteed to be champions.
The only major change being Tomasz Kuszscak taking position between the posts in place of Edwin Van Der Sar proved to be a decision that may well have been a regret in wanting to rest the retiring Dutch ‘keeper, keeping him fresh for his final most important moments of the season and indeed his career. His Polish stand in having a torrid day, looking nervy and leading to a dominant United side being deflated after going one goal down after 20 minutes.
There on in United looked restless, shaky and frustrated against a resilient Blackburn, and it looked as though it might not be their day until with under 20 minutes left, Javier Hernandez broke through Blackburn’s back four, beating the offside trap and just about latching on to a sublime pass from Ryan Giggs, and although the ball looked beyond him, the young Mexican was able to take a touch away from Paul Robinson who dived out, taking Hernandez with him, conceding a penalty and providing Wayne Rooney with the opportunity to take his team within minutes of being crowned champions.
In front of United’s travelling support, Rooney stepped up to emphatically drive home his spot kick, leading Ferguson’s men to see out the match, with Blackburn not looking to challenge from there on, until the final whistle was blown, and Manchester United were once again crowned Premier League Champions. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Tomasz Kuszscak – Weakest Link
On such a momentous day, I will try and limit the negative statements. However, as is this also an analysis of the match itself, I would not be doing what was expected of me if there was not some sort of critique of certain performances, and the one that is certain to be considered a let down unanimously is that of Van Der Sar’s understudy. If, as expected, Kuszscak is leaving Old Trafford this Summer, he will not have left fans with a pleasant leaving moment.
A nervy performance throughout, his own lack of assurance in United’s goal seemed to filter through to the rest of the defence, looking an indecisive unit at a time when Van Der Sar would have allowed for far more control. It started badly when he failed to make up his mind as to whether or not to pick up a ball that may well have been judged a back pass, early in the first half and from there was never able to regain any confidence, looking out of sorts when coming for crosses and could have dealt with matters better in the build up to the opening goal of the game, looking to chase the ball after it had been crossed and finding himself out of position.
Perhaps a lack of match practise had been to blame, perhaps nerves had played a part knowing his contribution was of importance in helping seal the title, but whatever may have been affecting him, it does not excuse what was a below-par showing at a time when Ferguson will have wanted to keep Van Der Sar fresh in not having to play him when a reliable option is available. For a goalkeeper who has had positive contributions at times in his United career, his performance on Saturday afternoon emphasised the importance in picking an adequate replacement for next season as United’s first choice goalkeeper.
2) Paul Scholes appearance helped to regain control
With a defence that looked short on confidence for various reasons, after conceding an avoidable goal, United came under pressure from Blackburn. Despite having more possession, in terms of attempts, Blackburn were more than a match for Ferguson’s team, with his side failing to make much of the possession they had, even coming close to conceding a second when early in the second half When Olsson rose above Valencia to powerfully head the ball against the post.
However, United held on, refusing to lay low, and when Scholes was brought on for Fabio, it helped to regain a dominance in midfield, bringing a personality that had been there before, knowing what was required for the big occasion, and although still stifled by Blackburn’s resistance, the display began to look more self assured, showing threatening signs until Giggs played a superb pass to Hernandez leading to being awarded a penalty that would seal the title.