United win five-goal thriller

September 14th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: United win five-goal thriller


Manchester United 3 Celtic 2

Manchester United clambered off the deck to emerge victorious from a pulsating ĎBattle of Britainí clash with Celtic.

Louis Sahaís first-half double and an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer effort 90 seconds after the re-start proved enough for United to conquer the Scottish champions, and some of the demons that remain from last seasonís disastrous European campaign.

It probably should have been more, with the brilliant Saha coming agonisingly close to a deserved hat-trick and Hoops keeper Artur Boruc reacting superbly to keep out Wayne Rooney and a header from his own team-mate, Paul Telfer, which he pushed onto a post.

But just to ignore the contribution of Celtic and their magnificent supporters to a truly memorable evening would be a supreme injustice as the United Kingdomís best two supported sides delivered a tie for the rest of Europe to envy.

Gordon Strachanís men fought valiantly, took the lead through Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Sahaís major rival for the man-of-the-match award, then responded to the Frenchmanís double by levelling themselves when Shunsuke Nakamura netted.

They might even have nabbed a draw when Thomas Gravesen strode through near the end, only for Edwin van der Sar to repel the former Everton manís effort and seal victory.

Sir Alex Ferguson had expressed the hope his side would be able to rise above the intensity of an Anglo-Scottish feud.

As he surveyed a packed Old Trafford and heard the noise bellowing down from all sides, this proudest of all Scots must have sensed it was an impossible task.

Celtic raced around as if their lives depended on it, their admirable industry bridging what appeared to be an obvious gulf in class.

The visitors had succeeded in limiting United to a couple of Saha half chances when they went in front in true route one fashion.

Rio Ferdinand appeared to be in total control and he waited for Borucís huge punt to drop out of the sky close to the edge of his own area. But somehow, Ferdinand lost his bearings, allowing Vennegoor of Hesselink to pounce, driving a low shot towards the bottom corner which Van der Sar was unable to keep out.

It was the moment, Fergusonís appeal for calm was tossed out of the window as United responded with fervour and intent.

A little desperation was also starting to appear until Boruc committed defensive suicide.

Quite why the Polish keeper felt the need to try to impede Ryan Giggs as the Welshman vainly chased a ball which was heading over the goalline is impossible to judge. But he did, referee Lubos Michel spotted it and Saha drilled home the penalty.

On a night when Ruud van Nistelrooy was drawing a blank for Real Madrid, Saha was producing a top drawer performance which proved why his manager has such faith in him.

When the Frenchman forced Scholesí brilliantly disguised pass over the line six minutes before the break, it appeared Celticís resistance would end, especially as Vennegoor of Hesselink had already wasted a gilt-edged chance to put the visitors back in front when he sent a free header straight at Van der Sar from barely eight yards.

But the Scottish champions are made of stern stuff and, when presented with a decent free-kick opportunity by Wes Brownís foul on Jiri Jarosik, Nakamura curled a superb shot into the top corner.

The breathless ending to the first half was only matched by the start of the second as United found themselves back in front within 90 seconds.

Presented with possession by Gravesenís poor pass, Scholes promptly found Saha in the box.

Boruc was equal to the first effort but the United man got his foot to the rebound and turned it into the path of Solskjaer who, in front of the adoring Stretford End, rammed home his first European goal for almost three years.

Between them, Solskjaer and Saha, who was denied a hat-trick by Borucís brilliant save, had succeeded in shunting Wayne Rooney right out of the limelight.

No-one can keep the youngster down for long though and, on his return to action after a three-game ban, he produced arguably the moment of the night when he spirited past Stephen McManus as though he was not there 25 yards out, only to then disappointingly fail to beat Boruc with a side-footed finish.

Gravesen wasted the chance to spoil Unitedís night at the death, although it was not all entirely good news for the Red Devils as, after confirming Park Ji-sung will be out for three months with ankle ligament damage, they lost Giggs to what appeared to be a hamstring injury.

Just four days before his side face Arsenal, that was a sight Ferguson definitely did not want to see.

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