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Dublin: 5°C Thursday 4 March 2021


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Good afternoon and welcome to another Premier League liveblog, this one featuring teams at extreme ends of the table as Manchester United host Blackburn Rovers.

Of course, the moment can’t pass without mentioning Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday. Yes, we did of course have all of the hullabaloo about his 25th anniversary only two months ago but, whatever you look at it and whatever your thoughts on Ferguson, it is some achievement to be so assertive and so successful at this age.

You only have to think back to the fact that, in this exact fixture in 2005, the United manager was actually booed by his own fans as United fell 2-1 to Morten Gamst Pedersen. That was during an infamous ‘transition’ season, in which Ferguson’s age – and remaining ability – came under a lot of scrutiny.

Of course, he quickly banished all of that by embarking on the most successful run in the club’s history. But we’re no arguably seeing the other side of that now as many have compared this United team to that which so struggled between 2004-06.

Whatever the reality, it isn’t exactly the most ferocious-lloking team from Ferguson…

The teams

Manchester United De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Jones, Carrick, Evra, Nani, Valencia, Park, Welbeck, Hernandez, Berbatov.
Subs: Lindegaard, Anderson, Diouf, Pogba, Will Keane, Fryers, Cole

Blackburn Bunn, Lowe, Samba, Hanley, Pedersen, Henley, Nzonzi, Petrovic, Rochina, Formica, Yakubu.
Subs: Kean, Slew, Blackman, Goodwillie, Vukcevic, Morris, Linganzi

The big news, of course, ks that Rooney is rested. Altogether. No space for him even on the bench, to the chagrin of many Fantasy Football managers I imagine.

There are no central midfielders in United’s line-up… except in defence.

The other news today is that Ferguson says he’ll only be in the job three years more…. but then he said exactly that three years ago.

A choir sing ‘The Impossible Dream’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ to Ferguson. He looks genuinely chuffed.

It’s off.

Nani floats an early cross well wide and over.

Nani’s had a lively start and young Henley – despite being the hero earlier in the week – is going to have a difficult day against him.

Great ball Nani but, just as Welbeck is about to turn in and shoot, the ball is nicked off him.

This is already looking difficult for Blackburn. United’s midfield quartet of wingers have a lot of space in which to drift and interchange.

Nani plays a free-kick straight into the first line of the Blackburn defence and then gets booked.

Penalty Blackburn!

Stonewall penalty. Stupid from Berbatov. Yes, there was a bit of general grappling but the Bulgarian then reefed Samba to the ground in the box.

GOAL! Manchester United 0-1 Blackburn Rovers

Who’d have thought that. In their first foray forward, Blackburn get apenalty which Aiyegbeni Yakubu coolly converts.

Free-kick to United…

Nani thinks he’s some kind of avant-garde artist with these free-kicks today. He runs forward then backflicks it to Jones, who awkwardly fires it towards goal. Deflected away before then.

Shouts for a United penalty as Evra goes down. But, having miscontrolled, it did have the impression that he was going to go down no matter what happened.

Just not happening for United at the moment. They’re always just a little slow or a little late as Blackburn cover space well.

Rooney looking on frustrated from some sort of fancy director’s box.

Oh so close to an equaliser! A corner is flicked on by Berbatov and, from three yards, Jones tries to side-foot it in but there are just too many bodies in the way.

This from Infostrada

Yakubu has now scored 11 Premier League goals this season, the highest total by a Blackburn Rovers player at this stage for 14 seasons.

Hernandez turns and flashes one just past the post from outside the box.

It’s a very… tentative game at the moment. Both sides – not even Blackburn – going full-gun.

Nani lashes at a chance and sends it well over even though, just before that, it seemed a simple slide-rule ball would have put Hernandez through.

Nani lashes another over from distance. It’s not been his day so far.

This should have been the game where United looked to completely close out City’s goal difference. Instead, Ferguson has tried to surf with an odd formation. If you’re complaiing of injuries, why rest Rooney now?

Great save from Bunn from a Nani toe-poke but, in truth, it’s the first he’s had to make for a while.

Bunn saves from Hernandez as United just enjoy a spell of productivity before half-time.

Three minutes of stoppage time here, by the by. Odd for a first half.

Half-time: Manchester United 0-1 Blackburn Rovers

Not the score you would have expected. But United have been very flat for most of that half.

Anderson apparently coming on for Hernandez at half-time. Odd perhaps to bring of the MExican, since he’d looked lively. Better to bring off a winger? But United do need presence in the middle.

The second half starts.

Nani curls one just over. United getting livelier and a bit closer.

GOAL! Manchester United 0-2 Blackburn Rovers

And that is really shocking. Just after United had looked a touch livelier, a throw-in in their half breaks for Yakubu. He forces his way into the box and fires it low past De Gea.

GOAL! Manchester United 1-2 Blackburn Rovers

Superb response from United. Evra crosses, Rafael shoots and Berbatov dives to head it past Bunn.

Amazing. The whole momentum of the games completely turned twice in a minute.

Young Josh Morris on for Rochina. A defender for a midfielder. That was actually lined up before Berbatov’s goal. This could be bad for Kean.

Berbatov showing a lot of grit to win a tackle there. People have been wondering where that kind of attitude has been for a while.

GOAL! Manchester United 2-2 Blackburn Rovers

There we go. it had been coming since the goal to make it 2-1. After a spell of pressure, Valencia bursts down the right and crosses for Berbatov to power in low and hard. Six goals in three games for the Bulgarian.

Valencia did well for that goal, showing a change of pace to burst through the Blackburn backline. And Berbatov made a difficult finish look simple.

It’s pretty much a draw or nothing now for Blackburn. By taking off Rochina for a defender, they’ve removed one of the options that was causing United anxiety.

Jones diverts Valencia’s cross just wide. All United now and 23 minutes left.

A series of corners here for United but Nani hasn’t provided a good delivery yet.

Nani’s taken 24 crosses today and only has a 21% completion rate. That’s been part f United’s problem.

GOAL! Manchester United 2-3 Blackburn Rovers

Old Trafford goes silent! And David De Gea goes awol! The keeper came for a corner, missed it, and Grant Hanley rose to bravely meet two headers. He deserves huge credit  even if it was something of a farcical goal. And, for United, a farcical result.

Into the 84th minute now and Old Trafford is silent.

Berbatov heads just over from Carrick’s cross. Light applause around Old Trafford. You really wouldn’t think we’re where at when we’re at. It’s just so odd… seems to lack urgency.

Will Keane comes on for United. Despite the name and Irish connection, likelier to declare for England.

Anderson blazes well wide. This is very un-United like.

Slew comes on for the hero Yakubu

Four minutes of stoppage time.

It’s in United’s half at the moment as they aim to just get it up the pitch.

Berbatov and Valencia try a one-tow at the edge of the box but, like the rest of the day for United, it fails to come off.

Drama! Evra has a diving header cleared before Jones has a ferocious drive cleared!

Full-time: Manchester United 2-3 Blackburn Rovers

A poor performance and even worse result for United. Not exactly the 70th birthday Ferguson would have wanted. But there were many things about the day which were odd: it started with United’s team selection and ended with the very un-United-like fact they got the equaliser, gave it up again and then didn’t really offer a late rally. Even worse, Kean actually played into Ferguson’s hands with his substitution.

All in all, a remarkable result though with potentially big consequences on the title race, both in terms of shape and momentum.

United, after all, should have been looking to both go temporarily ahead of City and close the goal difference. Instead, they’ve meekly surrendered initiative. That is the most bizarre aspect of all.