By Steven Saunders
Sir Alex Ferguson knows the course of winning a Premier League title never runs smoothly, but even he must have been astonished by Manchester United being 2-0 down at Blackpool at half-time on Tuesday night.
Their unbeaten record seemingly about to be smashed, Ferguson cut short his side's half-time break (though the players likely would have been glad to have been spared any more of his infamous hairdryer) and they reappeared on a cold north-west night two minutes before their hosts.
Manchester United forced to wait on Blackpool - if any sense of entitlement was still remaining after Fergie's dressing-room blast, the egos certainly will have been pricked by that.
It took the removal of Wayne Rooney midway through the second half to really spark United into life though. Within five minutes Darren Fletcher had squared for Dimitar Berbatov to tuck home from a matter of yards, then Javier Hernandez - Rooney's replacement - struck after springing the offside trap just two minutes after that.
It was little surprise when Berbatov took advantage of another broken offside trap to tuck home United's third with two minutes of normal time remaining, with Blackpool's belief and energy finally having been spent.
But how different it might all have been had Luke Varney been awarded the penalty that seemed the very definition of stonewall just moments after the second half had begun.
His touch took him away from Rafael in the box, and the Brazilian's rash challenge seemed sure to produce a penalty award from referee Peter Walton. Instead, play was waved on.
Ian Holloway's incandescent response on the touchline said it all - but it also suggested even he knew that it was a turning point in the game.
Manchester United are famed for their fightbacks. The Champions League final of 1999 is the most obvious example, but they have come back from two or more goals down in away matches in the Premier League three times.
|MARK OF CHAMPIONS?
Manchester United's 3-2 victory at Blackpool is the fourth time they have come from two goals down to win a Premier League match away from home. The others were:
Manchester City 2-3 Manchester Utd
Nov 1993 - United won the title
Tottenham 3-5 Manchester Utd
Sep 2001 - United finished third
Everton 2-4 Manchester Utd
April 2007 - United won the title
September 2001 and Tottenham raced into a 3-0 lead at White Hart Lane through goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege, the latter right on the stroke of half-time. Within seconds of the restart Andy Cole had started the fight back, then Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Sebastian Veron and David Beckham completed perhaps the most sensational turnaround in Premier League history. This time, though, United could only finish third in the league.
And then in April 2007 Everton made the mistake of going 2-0 up at Goodison Park through Alan Stubbs and Manuel Fernandes, only for John O'Shea, a Phil Neville own goal, Wayne Rooney and Chris Eagles all scoring in an eventual 4-2 victory. United went on to be champions.
So twice when they have come back from two goals down away from home, United have gone on to lift the Premier League title at the end of that season. The other time, they finished third.
Which is it to be this season? Did they display the hallmark of champions at Blackpool, that never-say-die spirit that will drag them over the line even when they are not playing well, and that every title-winning side needs to have within them?
Or did the match at Bloomfield Road suggest that United are a flawed team riding their luck? Had the penalty decision gone against them, might there have been no way back?
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