Berbatov adds the final flourish to United's thrilling escape routine
Blackpool 2 Manchester United 3
It was an extraordinary night which began with an ordinary gesture: Ian Holloway presenting Sir Alex Ferguson with a bottle of red wine "because the stuff in my office is rubbish." All part of that pre-match talk of cheap plonk and faulty boilers which, engaging as it might be, is mock humility delivered with the very deliberate purpose of making Premier League grandees believe that Bloomfield Road is a stroll by the seaside.
Humility? This was so very nearly a humiliation for United, though the legendary powers of recovery they displayed to win a game in which they trailed 2-0 with a mere 18 minutes to go sent a more decisive message of intent about their title pretensions than any rout might do. Ferguson played a huge part – introducing Ryan Giggs after the break and watching him transform the match utterly – and referee Peter Walton had a debatable part. Luke Varney might have been awarded a penalty to send Blackpool 3-0 up five minutes into the second half.
But you make your luck: three goals in 16 minutes tells an undisputable story. By the end, when United – 28 league games unbeaten now – cut loose against a Blackpool side who don't always go the distance, you could only marvel at the predictability of the mayhem. Two season ago, it was an identical winning scoreline when they came from behind, against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, which helped preserve the title. This time, United were recovering from a first half "battering", as their manager put it. If his side – five points clear of Arsenal at the top today – do take the symbolic 19th championship in May then their extraordinary winter's night on the Fylde coast is the one that will be remembered and replayed.
It might also always be the testament to the talent of Blackpool's one-time captain Charlie Adam. Holloway re-opened a new flank in the controversy surrounding him last night by attacking the Villa manager Gérard Houllier for professing an interest in the midfielder and Ferguson spiced the pot when he mischievously remarked of the Scot's contribution: "We couldn't handle Charlie Adam – his corner kicks are worth £10m." If that was a gentle effort to relieve Liverpool, who are yet to improve on their £4m bid for Adam, of a more substantial sum of money, then the player had already saved him the trouble.
From the front cover of the match programme to the three-page feature inside, which proclaimed someone who just "wants to play football whenever he can," the 25-year-old was not hiding from anyone after placing a transfer request on Monday. Holloway had said this was the night for Adam to demonstrate that Liverpool's really was a derisory offer and effectively play himself into the move which Blackpool – for all their protestations – want to profit from. He did not let his manager down. There are not many midfielders in the Premier League who flick a ball through Darren Fletcher's legs and over his head in the space of 10 minutes but Adam did. He looked like an £8m acquisition. "The crosses coming in were rockets, particularly from Adam and we found it difficult to handle," Ferguson admitted. Adam's assured left foot inevitably delivered the two goals which exposed a defensive frailty which United thought they had put in the past.
Fletcher, for whom this was not the best night, was culpable when Craig Cathcart came running in to crash in the first of them, from the 15th minute Adam corner which had just floated over Wayne Rooney's head. Rich compensation after Ferguson's decision to release Cathcart this summer.
Adam had just collected a ball just inside his box, exchanged passes and curled a cross which Nemanja Vidic nearly headed past his own goalkeeper when his second significant corner-kick was inadvertently headed back by Darron Gibson to DJ Campbell who was left free to head in. Rafael da Silva, covering on the post, allowed it to deflect in off.
Ferguson suggested later that complacency might have played its part – "I'm just wondering if they were a bit over-confident before the game and they got a rude awakening of course" – and also cited a "lively pitch." His opening formation, with Rooney isolated wide on the left, did not help. The striker may face a fight for his place before the season is out. It was the introduction of Giggs which finally introduced some composure and balance to a midfield in which no United player had flourished.
There were some nascent United hopes when, after Rooney had made way for Javier Hernandez just past the hour, Paul Scholes' strike was uneasily saved by Richard Kingson, though Hernandez's mishit with Kingson at his mercy gave their night an ominous feel. But it was a minute after that miss that Fletcher received Nani's reverse pass and crossed from the left for Dimitar Berbatov, who looked fractionally offside as he turned the ball in. Blackpool had not even steadied themselves before Hernandez had the ball in again, turning in Giggs' immaculate ball from the opposite flank this time. Berbatov finished it off two minutes from time, taking Scholes' long ball on his right foot and firing home with his left.
There could actually have been more for United and Holloway was left nursing an almighty sense of frustration. "I'm gutted devastated and I will be waking up feeling like I have been kicked somewhere very delicate," he said
Ferguson, whose right back Rafael was treated in hospital for concussion, knew the significance of the occasion. "It is a results industry and we got a really big result today which may have a big impact on the league at the end of the season," he said. "You can never say never because this club never gives in – the history tells you that. And that is why the history is so great." By the look of near disbelief on Ferguson's face as the whistle sounded he would have taken any cheap wine Holloway happened to place in front of him.
Blackpool (4-4-2): Kingson; Eardley, Cathcart, Evatt, Baptiste; Taylor-Fletcher (Harewood, 74), Vaughan, Adam, Varney (Phillips, 68); Grandin, Campbell. Substitutes not used Rachubka (gk), Southern, Ormerod, Sylvestre, Edwards.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar, Rafael (Anderson, 80), Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Scholes, Gibson (Giggs, 46); Nani, Fletcher, Rooney (Hernandez, 66); Berbatov. Substitutes not used Owen, Fabio, Evans, Lindegaard (gk).
Man of the match Giggs.
Match rating 9/10.
Referee P Walton (Northants).
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