“I’ve always believed that it’s part of Manchester United. If you’re down with 15 minutes to go, gamble. Risk has got to be part of the club.” – Sir Alex Ferguson on the 1999 Champions League final.
Sir Alex Ferguson knows all about gambling late on and finding a way to win, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played a part in his most memorable exhibit.
Solskjaer clearly had his great former manager’s words ringing in his ears on Saturday evening when he threw on Mason Greenwood and Andreas Pereira for Marcos Rojo and Romelu Lukaku with a quarter of an hour to play and West Ham dominating at Old Trafford.
The gamble paid off.
Immediately after the changes United appeared to be shapeless and Michail Antonio smashed the ball off David de Gea’s bar. The Spaniard also had to make a fantastic save from Felipe Anderson.
However, moments later, Paul Pogba launched a long, low pass through the middle. Marcus Rashford let it run and Anthony Martial bore down on goal.
Ryan Fredericks made a rash last-man challenge and United had their second penalty of the game. Pogba smashed home, low to Lukasz Fabianski’s right, and a vital 2-1 victory was complete.
They had ridden their luck but come up with the key moment late in the game. Straight out of the book of Ferguson.
On another afternoon, they may have been dead and buried long before their late winner.
When Felipe Anderson found the net in the opening moments and immediately saw the flag on the far side go up there was ire from all of a West Ham persuasion.
Replays would show that Diogo Dalot was keeping the Brazilian onside by a small margin, but it was far from a howler on the part of the officials.
The same could be said of the penalty incident which led to United opening the scoring.
Juan Mata stepped to his right as he attempted to receive a pass on the edge of the area and instigated a clumsy contact from Robert Snodgrass.
Referee Graham Scott was in close quarters and pointed to the spot. Pogba converted for his 15th goal of the season and his first in nine matches.
It was a lead they barely deserved and it wouldn’t last beyond the 49th minute. De Gea’s aimless roll-out into midfield sent West Ham straight onto the front foot, and Manuel Lanzini’s perfect cross to the far post allowed Felipe Anderson to drill low and hard past De Gea.
Then came the chaotic finale as United threw all their chips in knowing that their outside hopes of Champions League qualification would be all-but dead should they let this one slide without a fight.
It is a second win in six for United, and heading to Barcelona on Tuesday then Everton on Sunday they still have some hope and maybe even a little momentum.
But they can’t gamble like this every week. Sooner or later, their luck will run out.