Manchester United lose to bottom table Blackburn

Posted on by SoccerPunter

Grant Hanley’s 80th-minute goal handed Blackburn Rovers a stunning 3-2 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford on the last day of 2011 to ensure Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday was one to forget.

Having revealed earlier in the day that he expects to retire in three years, Ferguson then saw Ayegbeni Yakubu hand the struggling visitors a two-goal lead before Dimitar Berbatov responded with two goals of his own to bring Manchester United level.

However, with Blackburn under increasing pressure, a rare corner brought them a surprising, although deserved, winner.

Hanley beat United goalkeeper David de Gea to Morten Gamst Pedersen’s kick and, with the home defence slow to respond, the central defender reacted quickly and beat Rafael to the rebound to head in a memorable winning goal, just the second of his career.

United, who thus missed the opportunity to leap above Manchester City into first place, had been stunned by the opening goal, after 15 minutes during which they had enjoyed all the possession but failed to create an opening of note.

Instead, they were found vulnerable as Blackburn launched their first attack of the afternoon, via a long free-kick punted forward by their goalkeeper, Mark Bunn.

Berbatov, pressed into defensive set-piece duties, found himself engaged in a tussle with Rovers defender Chris Samba and clearly tugged on his shirt as the pair fell to ground.

Referee Mike Dean had no hesitation in awarding the penalty, from which Yakubu calmly put Blackburn in front with a confident finish into the bottom left-hand corner.

Yakubu’s second goal, five minutes into the second half, was a much more impressive individual effort.

Gathering a throw-in, the Rovers target man eased past Rafael, enjoyed a fortunate bounce off Michael Carrick’s attempted tackle and then easily beat Phil Jones before unleashing a fierce shot into the United goal.

It appeared that Ferguson was paying the price for some surprising team selections — midfielder Carrick partnering former Rovers defender Jones in the centre of defence, and right-back Rafael playing alongside Park Ji-Sung in an unfamiliar central midfield pairing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, United struggled to test the opposition goalkeeper, behind a packed and determined Blackburn defence, with that first half line-up.

In one promising spell of pressure, started when Samba headed a Danny Welbeck shot behind, Berbatov flicked on a Nani corner only for Jones to see his goalbound shot hit team-mate Javier Hernandez, who then shot just wide from the edge of the area.

It took until the 52nd minute, seconds after going 2-0 down, for United to finally find the goal they desperately needed.

Direct from kick-off following Yakubu’s second goal, Rafael drove forward and launched a move that ended with the young Brazilian crossing for Berbatov to score with a close-range diving header.

Finally, the Old Trafford crowd was animated and Ferguson’s half-time decision to bring on Anderson to bolster his midfield was paying dividends.

Bunn had to save athletically with his legs to repel Evra’s deflected shot and, just after the hour, Berbatov was on the mark again to draw United level.

A poor clearance from Pedersen played his team into pressure and Rafael, with a neat forward header to Antonio Valencia, maintained it.

The United winger sped to the by-line and picked out Berbatov with an accurate cross that allowed the Bulgarian to sweep in the ball from 10 yards.

United seemed poised to go on and claim the win but Hanley was to have the last word.

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