Don’t you forget about Pea: Out-of-favour Hernandez scores twice as Man United com from behind against Braga
To say they are the comeback kings barely does justice to Manchester United’s remarkable powers of recovery.
Yet the scowl on the face of their manager Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of another pulsating night when they rescued a lost cause, suggested he is growing tired of the need to produce these stunning feats.
Two second-half goals and a quite brilliant display after the interval gave them victory over Braga that already almost assures qualification for the tournament’s knockout stage.
Yet United’s third straight win in the group came only after they had conceded two early goals to the talented Portuguese team – amazingly, the eighth time in 12 games this season when Fergie’s men have conceded a lead. It is not good enough for a team of this pedigree, but at least the Old Trafford faithful can be consoled by the quality that allowed them to recover from the two goals gifted to Braga’s impressive striker Alan.
It was an equally gifted forward in the shape of United’s Javier Hernandez who inspired the comeback, with an important strike before the interval, and then a fine winner on 72 minutes, when he showed his goalscoring instinct to convert a brilliant cross from the left by Tom Cleverley.
In between, Jonny Evans had drawn United level soon after the break, when he stayed alert after miscuing a corner from Robin Van Persie, to swivel on the rebound and turn it into the net with his left foot.
Ferguson was relieved, but he knows this can not continue…..
“Why do we keep making it more difficult than it needs to be?,” Ferguson had openly wondered even before the game, in his somewhat caustic programme notes.
He was infuriated, he admitted, by the slow start against Stoke that culminated in a goal for the visitors after just 10 minutes. Compared to last night, that was positively racy from a United side who seem to be making an art form of the lethargic opening.
Not only did they gift the talented Portuguese visitors a ludicrous opening goal within 90 seconds of kick off, they compounded that mistake by switching off again within the first 20 minutes to give Braga another... and themselves a mountain to climb.
It would be easy to point to the use of Michael Carrick as a makeshift centre-half – to allow Rio Ferdinand to be rested for Sunday’s game against Chelsea – as the catalyst for such calamity, but it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
Sure, the midfielder looked uncomfortable in the back line and was taken apart too easily by the lively Brazilian, Alan, in the visiting attack. But as a team United appeared equally uncomfortable with their formation, which loaded towards a three-man forward line and left too little protection in front of the defence.
And how the stylish Portugal outfit exploited that flaw in the Reds line up. From a throw in on the left, Hugo Viana worked the space to deliver a simple cross into the six-yard box and, criminally, Alan was allowed the time and space to plant a header into the net.
United were stunned by the ease of their undoing, but apparently learnt little from their mistakes, as they contrived to allow a depressingly similar second goal just 20 minutes into the contest.
This time, it was Eder who escaped through the left channel, to breeze past an embarrassed Carrick and cross for Alan – again given the freedom of the Old Trafford penalty area – to steer another uncontested effort into the corner of the net.
Two runs, two crosses and two goals, it said little for the home side’s organisation or anticipation at the back, and they could easily have conceded a third before half time from a similar situation.
Yet as Ferguson intimated, it wouldn’t be United without the drama of a comeback, and that was mounted barely a quarter of the way into the game, as the three-man attack began to cause the problems their manager had anticipated with his selection.
Surprisingly perhaps, it was Hernandez and not Van Persie who profited most from the space worked by the use of the extra striker. With his Dutch partner expressing great skill down the left, the ball fell to Shinji Kagawa, whose crossed picked out the young South American to head home fiercely.
Cue an Old Trafford cavalry charge, and really United should have been level even before the interval, when first Van Persie turned well onto a clever Rooney ball, but shot wide on his weaker right foot, and then Hernandez was a fraction away from turning in a cross from the Holland international, and perhaps should have done so.
Filed under: Euro 2012
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