Manchester United came back from two goals down in stunning fashion as they scored three goals in a deadly 15 minute spell to overcome Blackpool at Bloomfield Road and extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to five points.
United had been by far the second best team during a first half that saw the Tangerines go ahead by two goals through former United defender Craig Cathcart and then, just before half time, DJ Campbell. Both had come as a result of corners to the home team, but it was not simply from set pieces that the 11 times Premier League champions looked woeful.
In what could well have been his last match for the Seasiders, captain on the night Charlie Adam gave yet another commanding performance in the centre of the park, spreading the ball wide to release his wingers with perfect accuracy while at the same time nullifying the threat from the likes of Paul Scholes and Darron Gibson. It has been performances like this that have brought interest in the Scottish midfielder from the likes of Aston Villa and Liverpool.
United looked jaded and it appeared as though the fixture list may finally have begun to catch up with them. This match was originally scheduled to be played on Boxing Day however the big freeze had caused the match to be rearranged. Now, with United fully engrossed in the FA Cup and perhaps looking forward to the last 16 tie in the Champions League, Blackpool could well have felt it was the perfect time to snatch all three points from Sir Alex’s team.
With Wayne Rooney operating on the left wing and Scholes being surprising off form on the cold night at Bloomfield Road, the away side struggled to make any impact. Scholes’ wayward pass finding its way to Dimitar Berbatov, who then proceeded to blast his shot over the bar from outside the area summed up a dismal first half.
The second half started in a similar fashion to the first, with Adam swinging a corner in left footed that again tested a Manchester United defence that was missing Rio Ferdinand. However, Sir Alex did mix things up, moving Rooney into a more central position alongside Berbatov while Ryan Giggs came on for Gibson who, although a highly skilled player, appears to struggle to impose himself on matches. Although this is something that will come with time and further experience, it was once again the experience of Giggs that sparked United into life.
The most decorated player in British football again showed why he is still an asset to Sir Alex. As the match neared the hour mark it could be seen that United were beginning to finally find their feet in the match as firstly Giggs followed shortly by Scholes and then Darren Fletcher all had shots upon the goal of Richard Kingson.
Sir Alex, never one to shy away from a contentious decision if he feels his side can profit from it, hauled Rooney off after 65 minutes and replaced him with the Mexico international Javier Hernandez who immediately took up a more orthodox position up from with Berbatov, giving his midfielders two players to aim at.
United profited almost straight away as Berbatov, now with just the one marker in the box thanks to Hernandez’s presence, received a ball from Fletcher and had time to turn and fire home from deep inside the Blackpool penalty area. If it could be thought that the young Mexican was simply there as a decoy the home side could think again as, almost from the restart, United regained possession, and following an intelligent run Hernandez received an exquisite pass from Giggs and moments later United were back on level terms without having been present for much of the match.
Blackpool now had 15 minutes left of a match that, had they been offered a point beforehand they would have jumped at the opportunity. However, Ian Holloway has never been one to sit back and so his team continued to press in search of the winner. It was this naivety that let them down as, with three minutes remaining, Scholes played in Berbatov and the Bulgarian, again with space in and around the area, had time to score his second of the match and his 19th of the Premier League this season as United collected three points from match they were barely in for much of it and where they were thoroughly outplayed for all but a 15 minute period.
The problem for Blackpool was that, playing against a side with the ability and experience of Manchester United, sometimes all they need is 15 minutes.