Manchester United booked their place to play Wigan in the Carling Cup final after overcoming Blackburn. It was not our finest performance and in many ways could be considered fortunate (has our luck finally changed?!?)- but one has to sympathise with SAF and the injury problems he faces in midfield. With Scholesy being ruled out for the season, Park still on the sidelines, O’Shea still injured and Smithy only just recovered- we are extremely stretched in that area.
But all went to plan when Ruud Van Nistelrooy fired in a shot to put United ahead before Steven Reid equalised when he lashed home as both players pounced on defensive mistakes.
Zurab Khizanishvili was punished for handball to Blackburn’s fury but Brad Friedel saved Van Nistelrooy’s penalty. A half-time tunnel fracas marred the tie before Louis Saha spooned in a volley for United’s winner.
There was a slice of fortune about United’s opener after Blackburn defender Michael Gray tried to intercept Wayne Rooney’s pass but only succeeded in inadvertently diverting the ball to original target Van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman took full advantage as his goal put United 2-1 ahead on aggregate and gave the home side an air of authority in their play, despite Ryan Giggs going off injured after 12 minutes (not another one!). Blackburn were getting little change out of the home defence until a mix-up at the back for United allowed Reid to level.
Kieran Richardson mistimed an acrobatic clearance on the 18-yard line and the ball ricocheted off Wes Brown into the path of Reid, who lashed in an angled shot from the right of the area. Another error in the United defence saw keeper Edwin van der Sar come to his skipper Gary Neville’s rescue by bravely racing out to clear his poor backpass before Morten Gamst Pedersen could take advantage.
Blackburn were then left fuming as Khizanishvili was penalised for handball in the area but will feel justice was done when Friedel saved Van Nistelrooy’s spot-kick. The first half ended in controversial fashion as players raced into the tunnel signalling some sort of fracas between the two sets of players. Whatever happened only served to inspire United as they overpowered Blackburn after the interval. Van Nistelrooy had a header superbly saved by Friedel, although the visiting keeper could do little when Saha spooned in a volley from Rooney’s cross. Blackburn’s dismay with referee Graham Poll was furthered when they thought they should have had a penalty for a Rio Ferdinand handball before Friedel twice came to their rescue with excellent saves from Van Nistelrooy and Rooney.
But there were no other scares for United as they set up a Carling Cup final appearance on 26 February. One just has to hope that some of our first choice midfielders get fit again soon- especially Ji-Sung Park with his ability to play either down the flanks or in central midfield in the mould of Paul Scholes.
Edwin Van der Sar.
Showed what a class act he remains (and a great buy!), when it really mattered.