Berbatov battles to win Old Trafford's affection

Manchester United 2 Blackburn Rovers 0

If Tony Blair said his job would be complete when the Labour Party learned to love Peter Mandelson, then perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson can finally walk away from Old Trafford when they swoon at Dimitar Berbatov's feet.

He has everything required to become what used to be known as a terrace hero. The enigmatic statements to the media, the elegance and the vision and even the smoking suggest a cool that Old Trafford lost with Eric Cantona's retirement.

And yet although the Stretford End stood to applaud him for the goal that broke Blackburn Rover's bloody-minded resistance, they do not sing his name in the way that the stadium bellowed a long deep chant of "Ruuuuud" when Van Nistelrooy was in his pomp.

"I think he's found it a little difficult to produce his very, very best – the sort of form he showed at Tottenham after a season," reflected the Blackburn manager, Sam Allardyce, afterwards.

"This is a big season for him. Playing for Manchester United is not an easy thing to do. There is no hiding; no easy games and there's no doing anything other than winning games of football. And I think he has found it, as many other players have in the past, a little difficult to adjust. But he has got outstanding ability and, as time goes on, you will find out whether he is good enough – because he certainly was today."

Sunday at Stamford Bridge would be a fine time for Berbatov to demonstrate that talent. One reason, perhaps, why the Bulgarian has not been taken to the red heart of Manchester is that he has rarely scored in high-profile encounters.

Only one of his 13 league goals has come against United's title rivals and, by the time he found the net against Luiz Felipe Scolari's fast-unravelling Chelsea in January, United were already two up with three minutes left. The remaining dozen have come against the three teams who were relegated in May, plus Stoke, Bolton, Wigan, Fulham – and Tottenham.

It was at White Hart Lane where United delivered their single command performance of the season and they will return to London on Sunday roughly where they were last November, a few points behind Chelsea, the direction of their season still to be decided. Then, it was their defence, marshalled by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, that underpinned the third straight title.

Neither may play on Sunday. Ferdinand's back pain, which has given him persistent trouble all season, was reported to have flared up again while the one-time England manager, Graham Taylor, suggested that with his 31st birthday approaching on Saturday, Ferdinand's legs have started to fail him. Manchester United's former right-back, Paul Parker, also warned Ferdinand publicly that "while a lot has been made of his back injury, it wasn't an injury that tried to make him scoop the ball arrogantly over Craig Bellamy in the Manchester derby. I worry he is getting close to David Beckham territory where image is more important than performance."

His deputies, Wes Brown and Jonny Evans, had stress-free evenings. Although most will regret the passing of a sun-dappled October, after a month that has seen them face Chelsea, Arsenal and now Manchester United, Allardyce would welcome November's bitter winds.

Under Mark Hughes, Blackburn earned a reputation for thriving against the big four, which was swiftly jettisoned under Paul Ince's brief stewardship and which Allardyce has found difficult to recapture. The 11 matches against the Premier League's leading clubs since Hughes left for Manchester City have brought 11 defeats and a combined scoreline of 36-4.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar, O'Shea, Brown, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Nani (Obertan, 64); Rooney, Berbatov (Owen, 79) Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Fletcher, Scholes, F Da Silva, De Laet.

Blackburn Rovers (4-1-4-1): Robinson; Chimbonda, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; N'Zonzi; Emerton, Dunn (McCarthy, 83), Andrews (Pedersen, 58), Diouf; Di Santo (Kalinic, 76) Substitutes not used: Brown (gk), Grella, Salgado, Hoilett.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Blackburn Chimbonda, Emerton.

Man of the match: Berbatov.

Attendance: 74,658

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot