Date:Friday April 25 2008
Veron passing to Forlan who hammers home with a deadly finish in a big game: how improbable is that? Yet it happened, and it happened against Chelsea.
That is my fondest memory of the past years' clashes, which, one must admit, were few and far between against the residents of Kings Road.
Our last meaningful game at Stamford Bridge ended in disaster: we never knew what United's gameplan was as Chelsea wrecked it with an early Gallas goal then made advantage of a painfully lightweight central midfield pairing of O'Shea and Giggs. A 3-0 result in the end flattered them but their victory was totally deserved.
The season before that, Mourinho's first, witness two strange games. The second, at Old Trafford, came when Chelsea were already champions and though the men in red took the lead, we were subsequently outclassed and torn apart on the break.
The first game, and that was the very first of the season, was also strange because United had to field some kind of a reserve team due to the staggering number of injuries. Without Ferdinand, Solskjaer, Van Nistelrooy, Rooney and many others, we never stood a chance and lost 1-0 despite manfully probing Chelsea throughout the game.
2003/04 also brought little joy, Chelsea winning a poor game at Stamford Bridge after Roy Keane gave away a penalty and they drew the return fixture at Old Trafford: Jesper Gronkjaer gave them the lead with a spectacular finish, Ruud van Nistelrooy's first-half penalty was saved by Cudicini then the Dutchman finally equalised with five minutes to go. A draw all but ended our hopes of finishing second though.
It's grim read I know so let's focus on the joys. Darren Fletcher's header deserves a mention: the memory of the defiance of the United players and the crowd still give me goose bumps. After all the criticism we received for our turgid performances it was wonderful to end Chelsea's 40-game-unbeaten run with a very spirited performance. United, as usual, proved their doubters wrong and it set the tone for next season when we finally reclaimed our league title.
However, my fondest memory from recent times is the two teams' clash from 2003. Lest you forget at that time both teams had a realistic chance of winning the league though the pundits have already given the title to Arsenal who, somewhat predictably, collapsed in the end.
But it could have been all so different as Chelsea were bossing the game at Old Trafford in the first 20 minutes. After some brilliant build-up play, they finally found the breakthrough via Gudjohnsen and it looked bleak.
However, the usually reliable Cudicini came to our aid: he kicked a backpass straight to Beckham whose predictably pinpoint cross was headed home by Paul Scholes. It changed everything.
The second half was one of the most wonderful 45 minutes of football I've ever seen: we hit the post and Cudicini made several great saves while Chelsea could have had a penalty and missed good chances themselves. As the clock neared 90 minutes I braced myself for disappointment.
However, there was a moment of magic, near 94 minutes. Veron, usually mediocre in Premiership games, looked up around halfway in the Chelsea half and sent a great long ball into Forlan's path. Forlan, usually unable of hitting a cow's arse with a banjo, produced a perfect volley that sent waves of ecstasy all around Old Trafford and clinched important three points. Such a scenario would be most welcome again but sadly we do not have Forlan anymore!
One must note that this was the season (2002/03) when we last scored at Stamford Bridge, Beckham and Giggs both netting crackers in an enthralling 2-2 draw.
Of course there were great memories from earlier years, too: in 1999 United won a Cup replay at the Bridge en route to the Treble due to a mesmerising performance and a magnificent Dwight Yorke goal. A year earlier we knocked out the then holders at their own backyard, racing into a five-goal lead before easing up and letting them off a bit.
I particularly like our 3-0 victory in 1993: as United bottled it a year previously, everyone was understandably nervous as bogey-team Chelsea came to town. Yet they were no match of a confident and swaggering United who cruised to a victory in the April sunshine. And of course went on to win their first league title in 26 years...
Date:Friday April 25 2008
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