United reach half-way point in scintillating style

Posted by Mark Payne

Javier Hernandez group celeb United v NewcPA PhotosJavier Hernandez is mobbed by his United team-mates after clinching a late win over Newcastle

Nobody does it better. Rip up the textbooks and throw out the tactics manual, forget the training ground sessions. Manchester United are proving over and over again that determination and sheer force of will are enough to win football matches. They have done it again.

Sir Alex Ferguson's team have spent almost the entire season teetering on the brink. They have gone behind in ten games now and recovered to win. And yet, as they reach the half-way point of the campaign, they are on course to break records for the club. This most scintillating of seasons could end up being Ferguson's best yet.

The days when teams came to Old Trafford with a plan to stifle and limit damage seem to be on the wane. Newcastle came here smelling blood after Swansea had taken a point from United earlier in the week. They hassled and harried and shot from distance. They tested for weaknesses in United's backline and found some. A fully fit Nemanja Vidic would be most useful.

A sly glance at this round of fixtures suggested that United against Newcastle would be the game of the day and it delivered with interest. The rain falling on this most Mancunian of evenings was one factor, the questionable defending another. As much as anything else, it was the guts and courage displayed by both sides that made such a riveting contest. At this time of the year, many teams turn off, not at Old Trafford they don't.

United's first and third goals were both indicative of this side's character. On both occasions Newcastle clawed away the initial advance only for a United player to collect the clearance and shoot home. It is this kind of relentlessness that weakens an opponent's resolve. They just won’t go away this side.

In between there was yet another goal from Patrice Evra, who is slowing turning into Rivelino on these kind of showings, and that controversial second for Newcastle. In hindsight, it seems legitimate, but in the heat of the moment a Glaswegian's temper can come to the surface. It did so and Fergie will probably be banned. At least nobody could have been killed this time.

Amidst all the excitement it should be noted that Michael Carrick's football has been sensational of late. He grew in stature visibly after Cleverley replaced Scholes and his passing drove the side to victory in the second half. A much-maligned figure for many seasons, Carrick is finally coming into his own.

The atmosphere at Old Trafford was terrific and Fergie's celebration at the end was reminiscent of Sheffield Wednesday in 1993. “A Championship performance” said the manager after the game. However, he has had a tendency to overstate things this week.

Goalscoring and points accumulation records are under threat from the Old Trafford side this time out. Leo Messi and Barcelona have rightly collected all the plaudits in world football for 2012. Here in England though, we have a club whose football transfixes the planet, that excites the soul and that you simply cannot miss. Manchester United are top of the league ladies and gentleman, and they are some team to watch.

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