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How Old Trafford stirred our amazing comeback

Sometimes, you need to hit rock bottom. In football, in life, whatever. To sink so low that the only option is to forget the trivialities and surround sound. The things that distract you. Simply remembering who you are, and what you can do – rather than the opposite – is sometimes all the inspiration you require.

At some point on Saturday afternoon, during United’s epic battle with Newcastle, that realisation was reached. The Reds were two down inside 10 minutes, against a side without a single win so far this term. At first, there was confusion and bewilderment. Anger and frustration.
 
But then Old Trafford and the team that plays there awoke.
The relationship between fans and footballers can be a strange one. Players will often speak about the need for the crowd to get behind them, but supporters also need something to chew on. 
 
They need a flashpoint, a moment of effort, of sacrifice, of determination, to get them off their seats, loosen their vocal cords and lock their emotions into a contest. ‘You can’t start a fire without a spark’ as Bruce Springsteen once sang, in Dancing in the Dark.
 
But on Saturday, they could see effort from the players. And they could see that nothing was working for United. Chances were snatched at, passes went awry – confusion reigned.
 
At times like that, the Old Trafford crowd typically reacts with defiance. Admittedly, a bloke in front of you will usually leap from his seat and instruct the players to
“get a grip”
before that happens. But, eventually, fans usually arrive at a point of resilience and pride.
Anyone who was there when Liverpool were 3-0 up at Old Trafford during the first season after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement will know what I’m talking about. The Scousers were heading for their first title since 1990 (unlucky, lads), and looked like they might notch double figures. 
 
But the crowd? They spent the final 20 minutes blasting out a chorus of ’20 times, 20 times, Man United’. I came out of that game buzzing. We’d been leathered by arguably our greatest rivals, and the future was uncertain, but we were still United fans. And collectively, we’d reaffirmed what that meant.
 
On Saturday, it happened again. As the half-time whistle went, the players' heads dropped, and they began the trudge to the tunnel. There was a smattering of boos, yes. But as they got closer to the tunnel, a roar went up. A guttural, emotionally-charged howl, that coalesced into ‘United, United!’ (see the Tweet below and turn the sound up!)
The players returned out early, waiting for Rafa Benitez’s men. The lad next to me said he was tempted to get off if things didn’t improve.
 
They did, if only in the crowd, initially. Led by the fans in J Stand – who are working hard to improve the atmosphere – and a boisterous Stretford End, the volume went up. United were throwing caution to the wind, and as the attacks grew in regularity – buoyed by the encouragement of the crowd – pressure built.
 
Ashley Young crunched into a tackle on the flank. People were out of their seats, whooping and hollering. The lad in front of me, whose mission in life seems to be honing himself into a clone of Liam Gallagher circa 1995, broke out into a smile.
 
Determination, pride, pace and a commitment to attack is all United fans demand, and we were getting it.
 
Juan Mata – while possibly the smallest man on the field – embodied it. The Spaniard won’t mind me saying it, but he’s not Roy Keane or Bryan Robson. But he still charged around that field, with all the aggression he could muster, using his intelligence and guile to stretch and twist Newcastle.
 
His laser-guided free-kick halved the deficit. Twenty minutes to go. ‘Jose Mourinho’s red-and-white army’ boomed across the stadium.
 

Highlights: United 3 Newcastle 2 Video

When a comeback begins at Old Trafford, there is a hint of inevitability. Once there is communion between fans and players at the great old ground, you start to suspect, in your own head, that nothing can stop us. 
 
You only have to look at the second goal – a delicious bit of Gallic interplay between Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba – to realise that confidence was surging. Slick, quick attacking play – and plenty of noise – will unsettle almost any football team on the planet. Once Mata scored, and the pressure started to build, chances arrived by the minute.
 
As the third goal was chased, Mata walked over to take a corner and was given a huge ovation. He responded by repeatedly thrusting his upturned thumb at us – a sign of recognition and thanks. That only further ignited the Stretford End.
 
And when it’s like this – when players and fans rally around a cause – magic can happen. Few players needed a goal more than Alexis Sanchez and, in the 90th minute, he completed a miraculous second half. How did a 5ft 7in Chilean manage to rise above the Toon defenders to head home? That’s a question for the Magpies but, as I said: sometimes magic can be made to happen.
 
Before you know it, you’re hugging friends and strangers. Grown men are getting flung all over the place in the melee. You only need to look at the ace go-slo footage below to get a sense of what Manchester United means to people.
Video
Watch our slow-motion footage of the Stretford End celebrating the Newcastle comeback.

As the team left, the Stretford End waited for every man to leave the pitch, roaring them off and applauding the effort they’d shown.

Afterwards, fans murmured about what it all meant. We’re still only eighth in the table, after all. But sometimes, a game is just about a game.

Sometimes you need reminding about what your club is, and what it can be.  About the joy of watching a great football match. About what can be achieved when players and fans come together and show what Manchester United is all about. 

That’s enough to make Saturday worth celebrating.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.