McTominay goal was about more than just beating City

It’s tough to think of a more euphoric moment at Old Trafford since Alex Ferguson’s retirement than Scott McTominay’s incredible 40-yarder against Manchester City on Sunday.

If you were trying to design a perfect Manchester United scene in 2020, this was it: sleeting Mancunian rain, and a piece of enterprising ingenuity from an Academy graduate in front of a baying Stretford End, in the final throes of a nerve-jangling Manchester derby.
 
What was it like to be there? Well, the buzz was absolutely stratospheric. So great that I only clocked the United players going berserk just below our section of the Stretford End after a good 30 seconds of personal lunacy.
 
To be quite honest, it took me a tram journey and a good two pints back in the pub before I’d calmed myself down.
 
And I wasn’t alone. The entire place was bouncing to Toploader’s Dancing in the Moonlight around 10pm. That’s not normal.
 
The morning after, you find yourself asking: what did it all mean?

United 2 City 0: The final three minutesVideo

Sour City fans could correctly point to the fact that we’re still a lowly fifth in the table – 12 points behind the six-times champions – but United are, of course, in the process of building a team. And beating City for the third time this season indicates that Solskjaer and co aren’t doing too badly on that front. The Norwegian, along with Jurgen Klopp, is now only the second manager to defeat a Pep Guardiola side three times in a single season.
 
But the Blues know as well as anyone that winning three derbies in a single season is something worth shouting about. One of their favourite chants claims
“we will fight forever more, because of derby day”
. So let’s not fall under any false illusions: winning a derby – any derby – is intrinsically worthwhile.
 
Yesterday, though, was about so much more than beating Manchester City, and something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the match really rang true on that front.
 
Simply, he said:
“The connection between the fans and the team means a lot to me.”
 
 
And when I think about it, that connection is what McTominay’s goal yesterday was really about.
In the last league derby at Old Trafford, last April, United caused Guardiola’s side virtually no problems. The crowd was meek and fearful, never truly believing that the team out on the pitch could match our opponents. United tried to press, but lacked both the energy and coordination to do so with any collective power.
 
It made for an awkward atmosphere inside the stadium – and not just because taking points from City would probably have handed the title to Liverpool.
 
Our match-going support has not dimmed since Ferguson’s retirement but, for whatever reason, that
“connection”
the manager references has undoubtedly wavered at certain points since our greatest manager stepped aside. 
 
We’ve seen undoubted world-class performers come in and decorated managers come and go. But, for whatever reason, the crowd has rarely seen the kind of football it can identify with.
 
We have it now. And that’s why Old Trafford went absolutely nuts when McTominay’s strike hit the back of the net.

De Gea: We all felt the special atmosphereVideo

It had to be Scott. He’s the embodiment of what Solskjaer wants his team to be: fearless, full of self-belief, humble, and committed to getting the best out of himself. 
 
He’s also unafraid to show imagination, with the cojones to take a risk or two. How many people were screaming for him to take that loose Ederson ball to the corner to wind down the clock? I certainly didn’t expect him to breezily whip it towards goal like it was the easiest thing in the world. It was brave, bold and brilliant: pure United. 
 
Look around the team that played yesterday and you might not see superstar names like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel Di Maria, but you saw spirit and endeavour, plus a great whack of intent and imagination. Twelve attempts on goal to City’s seven. And that’s all Manchester United fans really expect.
 
Aaron Wan-Bissaka straining every sinew to deny Raheem Sterling an inch. Harry Maguire striding out from the back with a leader’s resolve to beat the City press. Daniel James whirring around the pitch in a blur of youthful enthusiasm and desire, taking the team from one end of the pitch to the other in the same time it takes most of us mortals to lift our creaking bodies off the sofa.

Maguire: One of the great atmospheresVideo

The team are fitter and more confident, in both attack and defence. And, believe it or not, it takes confidence in your game plan, your team-mates and your own ability for players to give absolutely everything they have on the football field. 
 
A year ago, a player like Fred, for example, probably lacked that confidence. Look at him now. United covered 3km more than City in the match, and Fred ran more than anyone. He believes in himself. Interestingly, when most of the other players raced over to the Stretford End to celebrate McTominay’s clincher, Fred headed towards the touchline to embrace coach Kieran McKenna.

Highlights: United 2 City 0Video

Of course, we crave trophies; it's how the club has measured itself since the Sir Matt Busby era. But to be in a position to claim silverware, first you have to develop a culture of ambition and self-determination; to show those that follow the team that you mean business and are willing to sweat and fight for this great club.
 
That’s why 70-odd thousand inside Old Trafford yesterday absolutely lost it when McTominay made it two. 
 
It was ‘just’ a derby win. But after years of frustration, a recognisable sense of character appears to have returned, and Old Trafford and its beloved team are being well and truly reconnected. 
 
Now that’s something worth celebrating.
 
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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