Fans in Belfast were treated to five goals and a feast of attacking football as Manchester United and an Irish League XI honoured former Reds goalkeeper Harry Gregg with a testimonial match at Windsor Park.
Sir Alex’s men proved too good on the night and ran out 4-1 winners, but the home team were competitive for long periods and contributed to an entertaining evening.
Goals from Patrice Evra, Ashley Young (2) and Wayne Rooney handed United the victory, but the real star of the night was a man whose bravery and courage at the scene of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 will always be remembered.
In tribute, Sir Alex Ferguson took a strong squad to Belfast and, together with the Irish League XI, United’s players formed a guard of honour before kick-off to honour Gregg. Never one for the limelight, Harry accepted the gesture almost apologetically, as well as the hearty applause that resonated around Windsor Park and a fans’ mosaic that simply read: “Hero”.
When the game kicked off it took just seven minutes for United to find the net, although Nani’s volley, struck sweetly as the ball came over his shoulder, was correctly ruled out for offside. The Irish side’s first chance arrived soon afterwards, when a misplaced pass from Phil Jones gifted possession to the home team deep in Reds territory. But when the ball was worked to Chris Morrow, he could only blast over the bar.
Michael Owen missed a much more presentable chance on 18 minutes when Dimitar Berbatov raced clear and squared for the striker. Owen should have merely tapped the ball home from six yards, but instead his finish trickled tamely past the post. His blushes were only spared slightly by the assistant referee raising his flag (incorrectly this time) for offside.
United took the lead two minutes later through Evra, who darted forward from left-back and exchanged passes with Owen to find himself clean through with only goalkeeper Alan Blayney to beat. The Frenchman did that comfortably, too, belying his Reds goalscoring record.
Testimonials often boast their fair share of flicks and tricks, and there were some of those at Windsor Park. In the main, though, both sides treated the match, and each other, with plenty of respect, preferring economical rather than