Why Matic's goal was worth the wait
When Inside United spoke to Nemanja Matic in early December, we asked him whether he was saving his first goal for Manchester United in order for it to be something spectacular.
The Serbian, who arrived last summer from Chelsea, was unlucky not to get off the mark when his drive came back off the woodwork and entered the net via the back of Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar in the UEFA Champions League at Old Trafford in October.
He has chanced his arm since and would have scored earlier at Crystal Palace, had Christian Benteke not cleared the ball off the line. As it was, his injury-time strike was one that will be remembered for some time, sweetly curling away from Wayne Hennessey from long range to earn a valuable victory.
Fans will recall his stupendous piledriver for Chelsea in last season's Emirates FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham at Wembley, while his first international goal for Serbia was a spectacular overhead kick against Portugal. In 2013, his brilliant left-footed volley for Benfica against Porto was nominated for FIFA's Puskas Award, recognising the best global goal of the season.
We asked if he thought his maiden strike for United would be a special one.
“I think so!” he replied.
“I don’t know. I don’t think about that really. If I get a chance to score, I will try to do it but whether it’s a nice goal or not doesn’t matter. If it’s a spectacular goal, it’s better for me, though, and I have scored some nice ones in my career. I don’t score a lot so, when I score these goals, they stay in my mind and I can’t forget them!”
Matic's primary function in the team might not be getting on the scoresheet, but his dramatic winner got us thinking about players who scored truly important first goals for the club. Looking back in Premier League history, several spring to mind.
Dion Dublin scored the only goal of the game late on at The Dell to defeat Southampton and earn our first win in the newly formed competition, while Chris Eagles definitely warrants a mention for his clincher at Everton in 2007, that took United a huge step closer to the title. Similarly, Federico Macheda's famous curler against Aston Villa two years later was key in the race for the championship.
For Dublin and Macheda, it's perhaps more natural for strikers to make key contributions with their maiden strikes. Wayne Rooney's first Premier League goal confirmed the end of Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten record and Anthony Martial, of course, illuminated his debut with a wonderful solo effort to seal a home win over Liverpool.
All undeniably big moments but it was not like there was a long wait for the player to break his duck in the most timely fashion - even if Eagles did score in his 10th outing. So, maybe Wes Brown deserves recognition here - he scored his first goal against Juventus in his 111th appearance and his opening Premier League goal was enough to earn victory against Newcastle United in 2005.
Remarkably, Lee Martin was the unlikely hero in the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace when smashing in Neil Webb's pass, but he had already scored for the Reds, albeit only once, against West Ham two years earlier.
There is no doubt Matic's goal was well worth the wait, coming in his 38th appearance, and the in-form midfielder may even have another one or two in his locker as we enter the key phase of the campaign. Let's hope so!