It felt a fitting tribute to the late Lady Cathy Ferguson, wife of Sir Alex Ferguson, that Manchester United won in ‘Fergie time’ on Saturday afternoon, with a Scottish academy lad in Scott Mctominay being the hero.
A 3 pm Saturday league win at home to Brentford isn’t quite Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, at Camp Nou, but it was a win that Manchester United were in dire need of, having lost their last two.
It took a lot to get the win. United were the dominant side, for the most part displaying more calmness and patience in possession instead of forcing the direct pass too early, creating the kind of transitional scenarios that Erik ten Hag‘s men have struggled to defend this year.
It was a chain of errors from Casemiro, Victor Lindelöf and then André Onana that led to Brentford going ahead in the 26th minute. United could not break Brentford down before half-time, despite the best efforts of Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Højlund – the two United forwards performing well on the day.
Casemiro was punished with a half-time substitution for his error, with Erik ten Hag bringing on Christian Eriksen to play as another number 10 in an attempt to break down Brentford’s stubborn block that turned even more compact following the break. The visitors have struggled themselves with one win this season, and a win at Old Trafford would have been huge for them.
In the 87th minute, Erik ten Hag turned to Scott McTominay as a last resort. A striker in his youth, who in his career has been at his best when allowed to attack the box late from midfield due to those developed instincts paired with his physical prowess, McTominay was sent on to play higher up the pitch as United attacked aggressively.
Somehow, someway, United turned it around. His first goal in the 93rd minute levelled the score, and at that point, many fans would have accepted a draw. United acted quickly to get the game restarted, and in the 97th minute, McTominay crashed Harry Maguire’s flicked-on header past Thomas Strakosha.
Cue absolute bedlam.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen few knee slides like the one Mctominay pulled out. Diogo Dalot fell to the floor in dramatic fashion to celebrate. The entire team, including goalkeeper Onana – who had sprinted the length of the pitch, ran to celebrate with the midfielder, with the subs getting involved too. Erik ten Hag was overjoyed, finally having some luck come his way.
Often when sides are struggling, fans resort to the same tropes accusing players of laziness and not caring. Predictably, the same has happened to United in recent weeks.
If that celebration wasn’t caring, then I don’t know what caring is.
Sometimes in football, teams simply go through periods of not playing well enough. United have not been good enough on all fronts, and at the same time has been incredibly unlucky in many moments.
The win was needed, but after a couple of weeks of reports claiming toxicity inside the dressing room and pressure on Erik ten Hag’s job, the celebration maybe even meant more. For the fans, it’s reassurance that these players do in fact care. For the players, it’s the feeling.
A feeling that they share together.
In football that feeling of togetherness, that collective spirit, is everything. Especially in the dark moments, when things feel tough. Teams are only as strong as they are united, and weak as they are divided. The side’s celebration showed Old Trafford a United team, ready to fight however much it takes.
United have a long way to go, and the October international break has come at a very convenient time for Ten Hag’s Reds. A chance for players to get a brief change of environment, for some absentees to return, and for Ten Hag to revise his strategy and plan his next moves.
Now we head into that break not off the back of a disappointing loss at home to struggling Brentford and replacing the word loss with the word draw offers little here, but off the back of a resounding win, and most importantly a defiant stand in the face of adversity.
A celebration that screamed 1000 words, courtesy of Scott McTominay.
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