Monday, 20 May 2013

Never say die United - the embodiment of Ferguson's psyche

On a final day when only one position was left to fight for, Sir Alex Ferguson bowed out from football management with a hand in another record of sorts. For once, it was one of entertainment not achievement: the Premier League's first ever 5-5 draw. The manager who brought 38 trophies in 26 years to a single club could set new landmarks without meaning to.

It was fitting for Ferguson's final season that one of Manchester United's greatest traits under his stewardship – their never-say-die spirit – was evident on so many occasions. The number of late winning goals they scored was startling.

In their third match of the campaign, two Robin van Persie goals at 87 and 90 minutes transformed a loss into a win against Southampton. Two games later, a van Persie penalty at 81 minutes against Liverpool secured another victory. Having struck a lateish winner against Chelsea, Javier Hernandez did it again versus Villa, 87 minutes in. Van Persie's free-kick in stoppage time away to Manchester City opened up a six-point lead over their rivals and Hernandez came off the bench to score in the very last minute against Newcastle on Boxing Day.

And all these came in the first half of the season.

The amount of points United gained from losing positions would have been shattering for their opponents. Leading teams often faced in the latter stages of a match a hungry United gunning for them, hunting them down and displaying a deeply ingrained will to win. Inevitably it would end only one way: with United wrestling the points from their possession at the last gasp. United recovered to win 29 points from losing positions this season, the second highest total in the league's history.

Last year's title winners Manchester City threatened, but failed to find their highest gear. They moved to top of the table on November 17 when they thrashed Aston Villa 5-0, and were unbeaten until their 16th match.

But their loss to United in the dying seconds of the game, inflicted by the player Roberto Mancini craved, was an almighty blow from which City could not recover.

United proved that last season's collapse of form, where they surrendered an eight point lead in April, was an anomaly. Indeed, finishing a campaign strongly has been another characteristic of United under Ferguson. The ability to front-run, combined with a hatred of being behind, made United the ultimate psychologically tough side.

In 2013, Ferguson ensured there would be no repeat of last year's failure, and United marched unflappably to an elusive 20th league title.   

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