It was Scholes who proved to be the agent of United's downfall yesterday, making the error that led to Blackburn Rovers' first win at Old Trafford for 43 years. A man who rarely talks to the press, you can safely assume Scholes is now regretting going into the prediction game.
With the Old Trafford crowd demanding a change in tactics from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 and imploring the team to "attack", Scholes attempted to make a dangerous pass across his area only to see Michael Gray nip the ball away from Alan Smith nine minutes from time. A pass to Morten Gamst Pedersen and a sharp shot into the top corner, and United's title hopes appear to be in tatters.
If that was not bad enough for Sir Alex Ferguson, the Theatre of Dreams turned into a manager's nightmare. The crowd demanded the introduction of Wayne Rooney, the abandonment of the 4-5-1 formation and, at the end, the United players and the coaching staff were booed from the field.
Ferguson left Rooney on the bench for 55 minutes and it was only when the England striker came on as a substitute that United properly threatened Blackburn. His intervention led to an equaliser for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, but by the end even Rooney had been eclipsed by Pedersen and his two goals. The young Norwegian is a United supporter.
"I left Rooney out because he is suspended for two Champions' League matches and I had to be fair to the players who are available," Ferguson said. "It's a terrible blow because our record at home over the years has been tremendous. I am concerned at the gap [behind Chelsea] but our main concern is to get back on track and play with enjoyment and purpose."
Enjoyment was a missing ingredient almost from the moment United's line-up was announced. Rooney's omission dismayed Old Trafford and the sounds of surprise would have been overwhelming if they had not been drowned out by the sounds of glee coming from the visitors' dressing room.
The Blackburn smiles would have been even broader had Paul Dickov made contact with Pedersen's cross from the left that skimmed across United's six-yard box after seven minutes, and it required a save of some note from Edwin van der Sar to deny the same player's diving header 15 minutes later.
This was the first of three outstanding blocks by the Dutch goalkeeper, so there was little justice when Van der Sar was beaten by a shot of meagre force after 33 minutes. Kieran Richardson fouled Craig Bellamy on Blackburn's right and Pedersen's most likely intention was a cross when he arced in the free-kick. Certainly Van der Sar had every reason to expect someone would make contact with the ball in the packed area, but could only watch in dismay as the curl took the ball into the far corner.
The chances Blackburn had created deserved a goal, but it was hardly quiet at the other end either. Alan Smith crashed a 30-yard volley into Brad Friedel's midriff and was just over with a header, while Van Nistelrooy and Scholes were profligate with several chances. It was not enough for Old Trafford and the players left the field to chants to the sound of "4-4-2".
United were under obligation to improve and they almost got an equaliser within two minutes of the re-start. Richardson played a clever pass that defeated the Blackburn offside trap and Scholes was halted only by Friedel's charge from his line.
This was not enough for the home supporters and, with the demands for Rooney's introduction growing, Ferguson bowed to the crowd's wishes. The increase in momentum was instant and a delightful turn and pass almost carved a chance for Scholes. A minute later Rooney had the ball in the net, only to be ruled offside.
A game is never without its interest when Rooney is involved and after 68 minutes, he made his mark. A lovely turn wrong-footed the massed Blackburn defences and his shot from 20 yards was saved by Friedel with a dive to his left. The goalkeeper could not hold the ball, however, and Van Nistelrooy swooped on the rebound.
Old Trafford calmed a little, expected to see Blackburn under United's pressure, but was shocked when Scholes slipped and Pedersen got his second goal with a drive of power and accuracy into the top corner.
"We hoped to break quickly and exploit the gaps they might leave." Blackburn manager Mark Hughes said. "A lot of people have been too quick to criticise us. Perhaps after this performance, they'll give us a bit more credit."
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