For the first edition of Premier League Rewind Donal Lucey takes us back ten years to a classic match at Goodison Park.
Goodison Park, February 7th, 2004. It is significant for many reasons. First and foremost, it was the day Ruud Van Nistelrooy reached a century of goals for Manchester United. He had reached the milestone in only two and a half years and in doing so established himself as one of the world’s finest poachers.
At the time the league was looking like a two-horse race. United were attempting to stay in touch with Arsenal who had a two-point lead. There was also pressure from Chelsea who, although seven points behind, were in a rich vein of form. In the second half of the season the table very rarely lies and wins away to the likes of Everton, who were struggling in the bottom half are key for the top teams to continue their momentum.
In the opening 45 mins United were irresistible. Louis Saha – signed in January from Fulham – was at the peak of his powers and opened the scoring shortly after Paul Scholes had rattled the post. Mikael Silvestre threaded a ball through to the in-form Saha on nine minutes and he made no mistake in finding the back of the net. Van Nistelrooy doubled the lead soon after and in doing so reached 100 goals. The Everton midfield was having a nightmare tracking Paul Scholes and he picked out Saha just before the half hour mark to make it 3-0. Surely there would be no way back for Everton at this point?
Everton made three changes at half time in a desperate attempt to turn the game around. Wayne Rooney, Tomasz Radzinski and Gary Naysmith all came on for the home side. Within 4 minutes these changes paid dividends and David Unsworth headed home from a corner. United were not at panic stations yet but they would be soon when future red Wayne Rooney won a corner on 65 minutes. The corner was whipped in and hope turned to belief when John O’Shea deflected the ball into his own net. The unlikely comeback was completed ten minutes later when Kevin Kilbane found himself on the end of a Thomas Gravesen free kick. This knocked some life into the United players as they realized that this could be a pivotal game in their season. Ferguson unleashed Cristiano Ronaldo from the bench in a last gasp attempt to recover the three points. The in-form Everton keeper made a superb save to deny Scholes in the dying embers of the game but he was powerless to stop a Van Nistelrooy header from a pinpoint Ronaldo cross in the 89th minute.
This was typical of Ferguson’s United. They had proven (and would continue for some years to prove) that time and time again they could rise to the occasion in the final minutes and rescue crucial points. Nobody watched a United game, no matter how late on or how perilous the situation looked, and counted them out. Interestingly, Ferguson’s counterpart on that day and current United manager David Moyes doesn’t seem to have that in his locker. That never-say-die mentality has been noticeably missing this year and it’s importance is reflected in United’s current position in the table.
Pundit Arena, Donal Lucey.