United moved five points clear of the chasing pack in the Barclays Premier League title race, but this was a far from straightforward three points as the Reds had to come back from a two-goal deficit and a below-par performance for almost 70 minutes of this clash at Bloomfield Road.
Ian Holloway’s side were 2-0 up and the better side at half-time after headed goals from poorly defended corners from Craig Cathcart and DJ Campbell. But with the home side’s tempo and energy expended, and with substitutes Ryan Giggs and Javier Hernandez providing pace and penetration, the final 20 minutes was all one-way traffic. Dimitar Berbatov got the first of two goals after 72 minutes, then Hernandez equalised before his Bulgarian strike-partner completed the dramatic turnaround with two minutes of normal time remaining – although there were ten minutes of added time to survive due to a serious head injury suffered by Rafael.
Sir Alex Ferguson described Blackpool as a “revelation” in the Premier League this season; that didn’t stop him selecting an attacking trident of Nani, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney, suggesting a need to be positive from the off. With Paul Scholes recalled for his first game since the Champions League victory over Rangers in November and his penchant for a deep-lying, quarter-back role, there was licence for the front five to press forward. That meant Darron Gibson, in for Ryan Giggs, and Darren Fletcher, replacing Anderson, getting forward where possible. Rafael returned from a one-game ban for a red card at Tottenham Hotspur in place of John O’Shea.
Such has been Blackpool’s success, particularly that of their captain Charlie Adam, that they have had to fend off three bids from three different clubs, including Liverpool, for their talisman. But such distractions would be swatted away for the visit of United and 1,500 Reds travelling to Bloomfield Road, a tight ground with the kind of close atmosphere that intimidates