The young Scottish defender headed home late on to ruin Sir Alex Ferguson's 70th birthday and hand Steve Kean's side a shock three points that lift them off the foot of the table
Manchester United was left stunned by Blackburn Rovers as two goals from Yakubu and a late winner from Grant Hanley handed Steve Kean’s side a 3-2 victory that ruined Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday celebrations at Old Trafford.
Dimitar Berbatov pulled United level with two goals after Yakubu had sent Rovers into a shock two-goal lead, but the home side failed to turn the screw and Hanley took advantage of some questionable goalkeeping from David De Gea to secure three points.
Wayne Rooney was once again left on the Manchester United bench, with Berbatov and Javier Hernandez preferred in attack. Rafael made his first start after injury as a makeshift central midfielder alongside Park Ji-Sung, with Nani and Danny Welbeck out wide. Phil Jones partnered Michael Carrick in central defense.
Ruben Rochina and Radosav Petrovic came into the Blackburn midfield with David Dunn and Junior Hoilett out injured. Mark Bunn continued in goal as Paul Robinson remains sidelined with a calf problem.
United’s unorthodox team selection did not seem to hinder the club early on, as it continued to move forward at will in much the same way as it had done in its two consecutive 5-0 victories over Fulham and Wigan Athletic.
The lack of resistance provided by the Blackburn midfield did not help matters but Kean’s back four was considerably more resolute, and Bunn remained untested through the opening 15 minutes.
The adventurous play of Jones and Carrick from defense, combined with the very attacking selection of players in the United midfield, sometimes left the defending champions short of numbers as Blackburn looked to counterattack. Nani had already been booked for bringing down a breaking Yakubu when Patrice Evra tripped Mauro Formica.
United was left stunned when Berbatov hauled down Chris Samba after the resulting free kick had been launched towards De Gea’s goal. Referee Mike Dean duly pointed to the spot and Yakubu sent the Spanish goalkeeper the wrong way to end any ideas Sir Alex might have had of a straightforward three points on his birthday.
The home team continued to dominate possession but lacked the tempo required to really unsettle Blackburn’s two lines of defense. Jones had a close-range effort blocked and Hernandez shot narrowly wide after turning on to his left foot, but otherwise chances remained few and far between.
Nani finally forced Bunn to work when he stabbed at a shot the young ‘keeper did well to parry shortly before the break.
Anderson replaced Hernandez at halftime in order to provide a more stable presence in the centre of the park but, remarkably, the visitors struck again out of very little.
Carrick failed to intercept a short throw-in to Yakubu and the Nigerian skipped past Jones with ease before firing through the legs of De Gea.
The insurance provided by the second goal did not last long. Kean did not even have time to bring on young defender Josh Morris to reinforce the Blackburn barricade before United had pulled a goal back.
After Antonio Valencia’s cross from the right was blocked, Rafael fired the ball back across the six-yard box and Berbatov stooped to head past Bunn from close range.
United’s shape was much better as a result of the introduction of Anderson, and the team was putting much more pressure on Blackburn as it looked to play out from the back as a result. The substitution had also allowed Valencia to push forward on to the right wing, with Rafael dropping into defense, and the Ecuadorian was causing all sorts of problems.
After Rafael intercepted a poor Pedersen clearance Valencia skipped past Adam Henley and cut the ball back for Berbatov; once again the Bulgarian made no mistake from close range and United was level.
Such was the relief brought by the equalizer that United, for a while, seemed to forget that three points were really necessary in a home match against a team that came into this fixture bottom of the Premier League. Formica’s shot from 20 yards might have tested De Gea if it had not deflected wide off of Carrick, and the resulting corner was won too easily by Hanley, although the defender headed wide.
That was apparently not warning enough for United, as Hanley went one better with Rovers’ next corner. After the 20-year-old had beaten the flailing De Gea to head the ball back into the air, not a single red shirt reacted, allowing the young Scot finished the job with another header to make it 3-2.
Sir Alex introduced 18-year-old Will Keane in a desperate attempt to rescue something from the game but Blackburn held out to collect three crucial points and hand Manchester City the opportunity to go three points clear at the top of the Premier League table on New Year’s Day.