The big day. The final game, when Sir Alex Ferguson was guide his team for the last time. After 1,500 games, Sir Alex would bow out of the game, drawing to a close one of the greatest chapters in British football history. The place? The Hawthorns, home to West Brom.
As Sir Alex stepped out, given a guard of honour by both sets of players, and cheekily handed a pack of chewing gum by the host’s mascot, the great man took position in the dugout, ready to take charge. What would follow, defied all expectation and ended his career in sensational circumstances and with a Premier League record.
For the occasion, United went with a changed line up from what fans had been used to for much of the season. In goal stood Anders Lindegaard with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in front of him. Antonio Valencia stood at right back with Buttner on the left. In midfield stood the quartet of Anderson, Michael Carrick, Cleverley and Kagawa, with Robin Van Persie stood just behind Javier Hernandez up front. An interesting fact that came up was that a product of the academy had been in every squad that Sir Alex had named in his time at Manchester United. A notable inclusion on the bench was the young Adnan Januzaj, the highly rated prospect tipped for great things at the club.
The game kicked off with United looking to control possession early. Within 6 minutes, they had grabbed the lead, as their first real attack saw Cleverley move down the right, to then play in a ball that met Kagawa to head in from close range to give his side a 1-0 lead. Perfect start for the visitors and merely minutes later, that lead was doubled, as Valencia playing in a ball across, causing Olsson to turn in to his own net.
From there United looked comfortable and in control, forcing the hosts to camp in their own half. In a first half that saw the visitors try to send off their manager in style, there were able to compound the home side’s misery, as after half an hour, Cleverley played through a ball to open up the West Brom defence clinically, meeting the charging Buttner in the area, the left back taking one touch to compose himself and another to finish well to make it 3-0 to United.
It could have been 4 before half time as Buttner’s long ball was well kept in by Valencia, his volley played into Hernandez, the striker unable to hit the target. Immediately after, the home side pulled one back as Morrison beat Jones to head home and make it 3-1. As half time approached, the home side went close on the break as Dorrans passed to Long with only Lindegaard to beat, but the Dane stood his ground to keep the two goal advantage.
The second half kicked off with Lukaku on for Ridgewell and immediately the loanee made his presence felt, within 5 minutes of the half kicking off, he took a low right footed shot from the edge of the area, curling towards goal as Lindegaard got a hand to it, but it was not enough to stop the ball coming off the post and rolling in. 3-2 and a far tighter game than originally thought.
However, United responded and within moments of seeing their advantage cut, Valencia played in a low cross that was fired home by Robin Van Persie, to notch his 30th goal of the season. With the hour mark passing it was time for Cleverley to make way for Ryan Giggs. only 3 minutes later, and it was 5-2 to the visitors, the substitute Giggs ran down the left to play in a cross for Hernandez to tap home from close range.
Despite the lead, West Brom were not dead and buried, as Morrison played in a cross to an unmarked Olsson, who could not direct his header on target. Scholes replaced Kagawa soon after and United could have made it 6 as Giggs played a ball to the far post to Hernandez, who tried to cut back for Scholes to no avail.
West Brom continued to apply pressure with time running out and with 10 minutes left they got it, as Lukaku latched onto a pass to finish from close range. 5-3, a glimmer of hope?
It was little more than a couple of minutes before United’s lead began to look slender, as Mulumbu directed a cross from the right to goal, finishing to cut the lead to 5-4. In what was an unbelievable and incredible final 10 minutes, the comeback was complete when Lukaku got his hat trick when he hit home to bring the scores level at an astonishing 5-5. With United rattled and with the hosts with all the momentum, one could not be sure how it would end. The fourth official displayed 4 minutes of additional time, would there be a winner?
As the game drew to a close, West Brom looked the more likely, but it was not to be, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s career ended in a Premier League record, 5-5 draw. As huge cheers greeted him from all corners at the final whistle, he went round to applaud all, before bowing and blowing a kiss to the travelling United faithful.
With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) A strangely fitting send off
In truth, it would be most frustrating for fans and indeed Sir Alex, to see his side throw away a 5-2 lead in the last 10 minutes and the way in which West Brom were allowed back into the game. It was a truly open game throughout that seemed to never stop for a break, with both sides enjoying their periods of possession and the hosts finishing the strong as they rounded off a stunning comeback. So, like his debut at the club, Sir Alex ends his time at United with a draw, his first game ended in a loss. It was also the first time a 5-5 draw had been recorded i the Premier League. It was a, frankly, astonishing display that may have left the side a little disappointing and the boss looking infuriated in the final minutes. However, as the final whistle sounded, and a glittering career came to a close, the result seemed to matter little as he waved goodbye to the fans, looking forward to his new endeavours.
2) Wondering why there was ever a goalkeeping debate?
As David De Gea established himself as the first choice goalkeeper, his main competitor early on, Anders Lindegaard, has found his opportunities limited. However, for Sir Alex’s final game, he was given the opportunity to start and impress. Now, in a final game of the season, with nothing riding on it and with no help from the defence, one has to be mindful of being overly critical. One also has to take into account the limited playing time as a factor. However, whatever one’s opinion on such factors, it was not difficult to see why De Gea is by far and away the preferred option between the posts. The Danish goalkeeper did not inspire confidence in what was a leaky defence in the first place. He simply did not look particularly impressive with the five goals conceded, giving the impression that his grasp of the basics of his position were somewhat lacking, looking ponderous in diving for the ball and lacking any sort of command.
With Ben Amos looking something of a prospect, it could well be the debate has now shifted, into who exactly is United’s second choice goalkeeper? Something for David Moyes to consider.
3) No concept of defending
As well as the goalkeeping criticism, it would be fair to point out the shortcomings of the back line as well. As good as Jones and Evans have been at times this season, this was not their finest outing. Evans looked the better of the two as the young Jones gave the ball away carelessly at times and there can be little excuse for the way in which the lead was so dramatically reined in. As well as this, Buttner, for all his attacking threat during the game, looked exposed at the back, and gave fans a reminder of what exactly they have in Patrice Evra. FInally, as much as Valencia is capable of stepping in at right back, expecting him to be a strong defender is simply not a realistic prospect. On the subject of Valencia, he gave one of his more impressive outings in what has been a troubling season for the winger. He looked more like his old self charging up and down the right, playing a key part in the goals and causing problems for West Brom’s defence out wide.
4) Stylish attacking display
From early on it looked as though the side was determined to give Sir Alex a send off to remember. Looking back at the game that is certainly the case, although probably not for the reasons they would have been hoping for. Going forward, though, they looked sharp and could well have had more than they eventually came away with. Hernandez up front looked lively up front and scored what would be the final goal of Sir Alex’s tenure. The Mexican impressed partnered with Van Persie, although was wasteful at times with his chances. Van Persie capped off a fine debut season, with his 26th in the league and 30th overall. Anderson impressed by finally playing a full 90 minutes, a rarity in recent times. As mentioned previously, Valencia looked more active and confident than he has done for much of the season.
Perhaps the pick of the players though, was Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese midfielder gave an idea of what to expect next season as he continues to grow in the team and establish himself in what many may consider a subdued debut season for him. Playing in his more natural position he was influential in 3 of the goals before being replaced. His first touch, fine passing as well as getting a goal of his own showcased what he is capable of and gave reason for optimism looking ahead to next season.
Finally, on the other goalscorer of the day Buttner. Fans have not seen much of the defender this season, but when he has played, he was looked good going forward if a little suspect in his defensive duties. Sunday was no different as he charged down the left regularly but struggled to do his bit in a collective failing in defence. With Fabio due to return from his loan spell and Evra looking to continue in his established role at left back, one must wonder what place there is for him. One thought is to use him on the left wing instead, given his penchant for attacking, and there could be room for it considering the questions over United’s wings at present.
5) West Brom earned a point in an unrelenting fightback
For all the blame one could place on United for failing to maintain a commanding lead, one must also acknowledge the part the hosts played in the incredible scoreline, representing the never-say-die attitude that Ferguson instilled in his side, refusing to lay down with 10 minutes to go, and 3 goals behind. Throughout the game, they never laid down and played their part in a lively encounter that provided fans with nerves and the neutral observers with great entertainment. Lukaku proved decisive in what has been a strong season for the Chelsea player, his first goal in a hat trick appearance was a well placed finish from 20 yards out.
The game was played at a quick pace and never let up, both sides having chances, and indeed both sides taking them, culminating in a memorable farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson, and as the away end chanted, ushering in a new era under David Moyes. Next season cannot come soon enough.