By Adam Joseph
That feeling has been sorely missed at Old Trafford. Late goals, dramatic finishes that end in Manchester United’s favour. Because they haven’t always done so lately. On Saturday afternoon at Wembley though, in a big game that sent the club into an FA Cup Final things did go their way, when Ander Herrera poked a ball through for Anthony Martial that he duly converted.
The scenes and aftermath from that Martial goal will live long in the memory of the United faithful and the players themselves, and will likely become iconic images in the future. That goal could very well become the beginning of an exciting new era for the club.
Of course the shadow of Louis Van Gaal and his future continues to haunt the club every single day, as the press reek of desperation with daily stories which change the scenario of his departure and Jose Mourinho’s potential arrival. That in itself is becoming a farce that the club is staying deafeningly quiet on.
There’s a reason for that, however. As Manchester City experienced when appointing Pep Guardiola midseason with Manuel Pellegrini still in charge, making such a drastic change can have a harmful effect.
So with United now firmly in the battle for top four and in the FA Cup Final, announcing that Van Gaal would be leaving the club would do more harm than good. Even if he is failing in his role sacking him at the current moment would be suicide in terms of the rest of the season. The club has made it’s bed this season, and must lay in it till the end.
For now, United are amongst it. The football is sometimes brilliant, mostly woeful and more than anything else wildly inconsistent. Scoring goals is an ongoing issue, David De Gea is bailing out the team on a game by game basis and the squad’s glaring flaws are on show as much as ever.
This season though, through these struggles there seems to be a penchant for scoring late goals. Van Gaal has done two things positively this season, the promotion of youth (however forced) and scoring late winners. They’ve conceded them too and they put themselves in positions which force them to do so, but there’s no denying they are doing it.
Wayne Rooney’s 77th minute winner against Swansea. Perhaps his 78th minute winner away to Liverpool. Or his 79th minute strike against CSKA Moscow (notice the timing of each goal coincidentally). The 93rd minute penalty against Sheffield United. Juan Mata’s 83rd minute goal against Watford, or Bastian Schweinsteiger’s deflected own goal at Vicarage Road towards injury time. Then of course Martial’s goal on Saturday.
The stark reality is with all of these, that in almost all cases Manchester United have put themselves in positions where they need late goals to save them. Poor performances, the majority of which have been disjointed or incomplete. On Saturday United were scintillating against a collapsing Everton defence.
In the second half though? United were pathetic. Their pedestrian midfield were easily bypassed by Everton’s pace and invention, while the defence’s struggles were summed up by Chris Smalling’s Sunday League style finish for the own goal that equalised for Everton at 1-1.
However unlike some of United’s frustrating capitulations this season, this had a happy ending. The boy wonder, the one labelled “what a waste of money” by The Mirror put away a typically lethal finish to put his club into the FA Cup Final as they try to win their 12th title.
Martial is a big part of the silver lining of what’s been a disastrous season for his new club. A winless month in December, with almost a second one in March. Early exits from the Champions League and Capitol One Cup, with an underwhelming league campaign.
There have been bright spots, such as Marcus Rashford’s brilliant emergence, the huge wins over Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. How much else is there though? The youthful core around established stars such as De Gea or Chris Smalling is promising, but there is a long way to go.
Van Gaal’s late goals have been nice, but it is a situation he has put himself in and relied on happening too often for the liking of fans. Whilst he will leave a good legacy with the players he will leave the club in Rashford, Martial and more, there is not too much else they will remember fondly when he likely is given his marching orders this summer.
For now though? It’s still nice to have that late winning feeling once again.
Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.
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