This is a club predisposed to battling adversity, on and off the field, and some of the greatest moments in Manchester United’s history have come despite towering odds.
From Sir Matt Busby’s exhausted boys overcoming Benfica in extra-time at Wembley, to derailing the Treble aspirations of Liverpool and Everton in 1977 and 1985 respectively, to Sir Alex Ferguson’s Reds completing a clean sweep of honours in squeaky-bum time in 1999, this is a club which shows its character time and time again.
Now, in the post-Sir Alex era at Old Trafford, it remains warming to see that, through even tough times, the club retains that unerring ability to rekindle extinguished hope. On Tuesday evening, the Reds wrought a victory over Young Boys to secure safe passage to the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League, doing so only at the death after a trying night.
Naysayers may point to the fact that the Swiss champions, missing key players and swatted aside by the Reds once already this term, should have been flattened in routine fashion, but persevering through 90 minutes and 13 seconds of almost total frustration, continuing to search for a route to victory, was just the latest example that this United team will always fight to the end.
“I was very proud of how the boys kept fighting to the end in each game,”said the Portuguese, whose 2016 appointment has coincided with a welcome resurgence of the comebacks, late wins and, therein, late comeback wins which became United’s hallmarks under Sir Alex in particular.
In the first season after the Scot’s departure, 2013/14, United triumphed in the final 10 minutes of games just twice under David Moyes, against Stoke and Sunderland, the latter being a last-ditch extra-time equaliser which merely deferred the Reds’ League Cup exit to a penalty shootout moments later.
That resurfaced in the Reds’ next competitive game – the opening fixture of Mourinho’s reign – with Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading in a late Community Shield winner against Leicester City. Before Christmas of his first term, the Portuguese had overseen late wins at Hull City and Crystal Palace, before a late pair secured a last-gasp comeback win over Middlesbrough at Old Trafford. Amid a trio of late points snatched in rescue acts against Liverpool, Stoke City and Everton, Blackburn Rovers were beaten in the FA Cup despite taking the lead.
It was in Mourinho’s second term, specifically in 2018, that the Reds’ customary character truly returned to the fore. In the opening half of the campaign, Newcastle and CSKA Moscow moved ahead but lost out at Old Trafford, while Tottenham succumbed to a late Anthony Martial winner.
Spurs were also among a clutch of clubs who suffered United’s indefatigability in the second half of the season, losing out despite leading in the FA Cup semi-final, while Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Manchester City suffered the same fate less than two months apart. At Old Trafford, Derby County and Arsenal were moments away from sharing the spoils before slipping to late defeats, while Burnley’s first win in M16 since 1962 was thwarted by Jesse Lingard’s injury-time leveller.
2018/19 has been an undulating campaign to date, but the never-say-die spirit remains constant. Even before November’s staggering show of moxie, October’s win over Newcastle came despite two early concessions.
Three goals in the final 20 minutes, capped by Alexis Sanchez’s injury-time header, marked the seventh time United have won in the Premier League’s history after being two goals behind at half-time. No other club has topped three times.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.