Hardly the birthday present Sir Alex Ferguson expected and also a major blow to our title hopes as Blackburn win at Old Trafford.
Team News – Sir Alex Ferguson, on his 70th birthday, welcomed back Jones form injury but a shortage of central defenders meant that Carrick , once again, had to slip back into the heart of the defence. Anderson, coming back from injury, was on the bench whilst up front there was no place for Rooney with Sir Alex opting for a trio of Welbeck, Hernandez and the Boxing Day hat-trick hero, Berbatov.
Discussing his team selection, Sir Alex had this to say,
‘Wayne Rooney has not trained well this week, He’s missed a few days. Hopefully, he’ll train today and the next two days ahead of Wednesday’s match against Newcastle. There’s great spirit in the dressing room. Some players have emerged like Michael Carrick and Patrice Evra, whose experience is helping us. We’ve suffered with the defenders though, we’ve got four centre-halves out.’
United – De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Carrick, Evra, Nani Valencia, Park, Welbeck, Hernandez, Berbatov
Subs – Lindegaard, Anderson, Diouf, Pogba, Keane, Fryers, Cole
First Half – United got the action underway at an expectant Old Trafford. United as you would expect, dominated possession in the first five minutes but without creating a clear-cut chance, the closest they came was a cross from Nani that drifted over the bar and Nani just failing to get on the end of an inviting pass from Valencia.
Jones, giving no favours to his former club, looked lucky not to get a yellow card after scything down Formica after the United centre-back`s poor control had let him down.
As the ten minute mark approached, Blackburn continued to defend well with shots from Hernandez and Berbatov being blocked inside the area before Nani shot wide from outside the box.
With fifteen minutes gone United had still to find a way through a Blackburn defence that was proving to be resolute and the Old Trafford faithful were in for a shock when in their first meaningful attack, Blackburn were awarded a penalty.
The spot-kick was awarded after Berbatov and Samba tussled in the box and Samba ended up on the floor, Mike Dean pointed to the spot and Yakubu sent De Gea the wrong way with his kick.
United 0 Blackburn 1 (Yakubu pen – 18 mins)
United tried to respond immediately, Evra made a searching run down the flank but his ball to Nani didn`t create an end product, similarly Bunn wasn`t exactly troubled by a low shot from Rafael. Minutes later Evran went down in the box after a challenge from Petrovic but Mike Dean was having nothing to do with it and waved play on.
Hanley was the next to deny United getting his body between Jones` shot and the goal as his attempted effort from close range, from a corner, looked goal-bound, although it did look as if Hernandez was also in the way. The Mexican came close to redeeming himself though when a shot of his flashed inches past the post.
Mike Dean did United a mini-favour by awarding a goal kick when Formica`s shot was clearly deflected, by Jones, for a corner, but thoughts of an equaliser were delayed when another shot, this time from Nani, went the wrong side of the post.
With half time approaching United couldn`t find the ball that would dissect the Blackburn defence and yet another shot, from distance, this time from Nani, flew over the bar. The same player, our best of the half, then forced Bunn into making a decent save pushing a shot, from inside the area, around the post.
United were finally showing what they were capable of and Bunn was forced, in stoppage time, to produce another good save when a free kick deflected off of Pedersen and into the path of Hernandez who saw his shot, from an acute angle, blocked by the keepers` legs.
The pressure was maintained through a series of corners but the visitors held firm and held onto their narrow lead at half time.
Half Time – United 0 Blackburn1
Second Half – Blackburn got the second forty-five minutes underway with Sir Alex having made one change, bringing on Anderson in place of Hernandez.
Lowe received a yellow card for an early challenge on Nani but the visitors cleared the free-kick as United looked to increase the pressure. Blackburn survived another penalty appeal but to be fair Valencia`s cross was driven powerfully at Henley and he had no chance to get his arm out of the way.
Things then went from bad to worse when Blackburn doubled their lead with only five minutes of the second half gone. Once again the scorer was Yakubu.
Battling to get by both Carrick and Jones the powerful forward then buried a shot past De Gea in the United goal.
United 0 Blackburn 2 (Yakubu – 51 mins)
United need to respond quickly and they did just that, reducing the arrears when less than sixty seconds later a cross from Evra saw Rafael`s poor shot headed home from close range by Berbatov.
United 1 Blackburn 2 (Berbatov – 52 mins)
Minutes later United could have been level when a shot from Evra deflected off of Samba and required Bunn to frantically scramble the ball away at his near post.
Just past the hour mark United were level when Berbatov got his second of the game courtesy of a Blackburn error. Pedersen lost the ball and when Valencia supplied the cross Berbatov was on hand to turn it in.
United 2 Blackburn 2 (Berbatov – 62 mins)
With United seeking to get ahead for the first time in an enthralling encounter, Henley did well to scoop a chip from Berbatov off his line from just under the cross bar.
Blackburn though showed that they were not content to just sit back and hold out for the draw. A foray forward saw a Formica shot deflect off Carrick for a corner and De Gea didn`t cover himself in glory trying to collect enabling Samba to have a sniff of a chance at the far post that he couldn`t quite take advantage of.
Valencia, presented with a great chance after the ball dropped to him on the edge of the area, carelessly blazed over as the time to snatch the winner started to run out.
In fact Old Trafford was left stunned when Blackburn edged ahead again through Grant Hanley. Defending a Pederson corner De Gea flapped under a legitimate challenge form Hanley and when the ball dropped Hanley was on hand to head it over the line with De Gea on the floor.
United 2 Blackburn 3 (Hanley – 80 mins)
Pushing to get at least a share of the spoils Berbatov headed over and Sir Alex introduced Will Keane for his first United start. With four minutes of stoppage time to salvage something but Blackburn were getting numbers behind the ball and frustrating United and the chance to lead the title race into the New Year was gone.
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