Ahead of tonight, many Reds – some privately, some less so – had begun trying to find some positives to draw from a possible derby defeat.
The biggest silver lining of all, according to the general consensus, was that a City win would complicate Liverpool’s title bid. But, went the counter argument, surely United will finally turn up for a game where, as far as they were concerned,only pride was at stake?
What a strange season this has been for United. On Sunday they were humiliated on their own turf by Liverpool, on Wednesday they produced an utterly improbable and unexpected comeback in the Champions League,thanks to hat-trick from Robin Van Persie, who managed to dissipate reports describing him as unhappy, before picking up an injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season
Today they traveled to a traditionally tricky ground for them with a central midfielder filling in at centre-back and were gifted three points thanks to two goals from a player who was on the verge of leaving the club seven months ago, while he now ranks third among the club’s all-time goalscorers.
It might not be the turning point David Moyes needed to save his United career, it’ll probably not change the way this season will be considered, but tonight’s performance showed that United can still turn up and give their fans something to shout about.
Evoking the spirit of ’84 might be a step too far, but United proved that they still have enough quality to perform on the big stage and the fans responded admirably, dragging their side through 90 emotional minutes.
In a season of lows and false dawns, today’s game runs the risk of being both without hopefully being neither, for it is complicated to fully analyse United’s 3-0 win at West Bromwich.
Did United simply make the most of West Brom’s deficiencies or has the penny finally dropped and has David Moyes realised that he has to build a system around his players to maximise their strengths, rather than shuffle his personnel around desperately trying to come up with the magic equation that will fit his archaic tactics?
In all likelihood, this was going to be one of United’s last ever away trip in the Champions League for a couple of seasons and United ensured it was a night we’ll not forget in a long time, even though most of us will hope to wake up tomorrow to the news that tonight never happened, that it was all a nightmare.
Forget the disgracefully wrong tactics, forget the ineptitude that has reigned supreme for months in different areas of the pitch, forget about the horribly dire football we’ve been treated to in almost every game this season, forget even about the fact that this tie and United’s Champions League are as good as over, the players wearing the Manchester United shirt tonight ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Having gone three games without a win, perhaps the FA Cup break benefited United, or perhaps Palace were simply not good enough to cope with the mighty Marouane Fellaini (this, by the way, is a sarcastic remark).
Whatever the reason, United’s first visit at Selhurst Park since 2005 was one to remember, as the result topped off a day of jolly drinking, one during which Eric Cantona masks were as common a sight in the away end as inflatable bananas are among City fans.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
If ever a moment epitomised United’s season, it came sixty seconds before the final whistle. Having been pinned back in their defensive third for a while, United pinched the chance to counter one last time but Wayne Rooney squandered the initial chance and Michael Carrick did not deem driving forward a worthy option and proceeded to pass the ball backwards. Opportunity gone, philosophy….seemingly GONE.
United, in those last seconds, played for a 0-0 draw as they had done for the previous 92 minutes and, in fairness to David Moyes and his men, it was mission accomplished, the sort of result a seventh-placed team would draw positives from, given it came against one of the favourites for the title.
By the end of it, the only surprising thing was that some could still find this abysmal showing surprising. If today is to be the end of the belaguered side we have witnessed for the last six months, then sure enough United delivered in a cruel, yet not uncharecteristic given this season’s standards, way.
Having toiled away for 75 minutes against a side that started today bottom of the league and that had failed to avoid defeat in their last four games, United looked to have rescued some dignity when Robin Van Persie and Michael Carrick put them in front with 10 minutes remaining, before Darren Bent clinched a late equaliser – it’s becoming something of a habit this season.