Red hot Scholes sinks City, Chelsea are Baled out... and title race is back on!
And so we trumpet Paul Scholes’s 149th goal for Manchester United, his third of the season. His most important strike of the season - unless he does something similar against Spurs next Saturday.
Today's effort secured the win they had to have. And with Spurs upsetting Chelsea later in the day, the red-haired one makes the Red Devils hot favourites for the title once more.
Ah... the drama of the Premier League. Three minutes into injury time, the only goal of the game against the old enemy. Don't you just love Scholesie, the last real tackler in European football? The epitome of never-say-die?
There he was, charging into Manchester City studs first in the derby they just had to win to keep the pressure on Chelsea. He could have been booked three of four times, sent off long before his timely header ended the hopes of big-spending neighbours City, who have had their hopes of fourth place and Champions League qualification severely dented.
And we all know, if he hadn’t allowed Sir Alex Ferguson to persuade him to ditch international football, he’d be a definite maybe for the World Cup this summer.
Of course, the experts got it wrong. They said when Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Scholes play together for United—with a combined age of 106—the lack of youthful vitality shows. Does it hell. These three, precious remnants of the famous 1992 FA Youth Cup-winning United side (it also included a certain David Beckham, Phil Neville, Robbie Savage, and Nicky Butt) remain so important to United.
They’re a throwback to a lost generation, when men were men, jumpers were goalposts and yellow cards were frightened to come out of the referee’s pocket. Giggs, all hairy chest and unflagging runs, has appeared a record 584 times. Neville, all verbals and gestures, 394 games. Asthmatic Scholes, all red hair and flaming challenges, 440 appearances. There won’t be another trio like that in this cash-before-loyalty climate.
There were 17 seconds left when Scholes, all 5'7" of him, headed that winner and set Sir Alex into paroxysms of joy. Normally he’s looking at his watch at that point, but this one was so unexpected, so perfect.
Afterwards, Scholes said: “It’s nice to win any game against City. Away from home is nicer.
“We’re hoping for a favour from Spurs later!”
Neville said: “We’ve not had a great two weeks, but Scholesie popped up and scored. It gives us a little bit of life. We have to hope somebody else does us a favour.
“I hope this is a negative for Chelsea, but we’d prefer to be in their position!”
And neither them, after that supreme effort at Eastlands, looked like they needed a zimmer frame.
Sir Alex said:”We never know when to give up. It’s part of our history. But I couldn’t see a goal coming to be honest with you.
“I decided to put Scholesie forward a bit and it paid off. He was wonderful today. So skillful. The experience in these games is so important, those three (Neville, Scholes, Giggs) have been in so many derbies now. It helps the other players.
“We’re hoping Tottenham win tonight. If they do, the title’s back on. It’s a big boost for Spurs too. They can go fourth tonight, that’s where the incentive comes.”
Sir Alex has ditched so many loyal servants over the years. Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Gordon Strachan, Lee Sharpe, Mark Robbins, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel...I could go on and on. Players we thought could have stayed and given more.
But these three he kept. And today, again, we found out why.
Two hours later, Spurs did exactly what United were hoping - and crushed Chelsea 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Jermain Defoe got the first from the penalty spot, John Terry was sent off late on... but the day belonged (once more) to roving full-back Gareth Bale.
The Welshman scored again - as he did in the 2-1 win over Arsenal on Wednesday - and was involved in everything good Spurs did as they comprehensively outplayed the Blues. Frank Lampard's late goal was absolutely no consolation. Chelsea were out-of-sorts, coach Carlo Ancelotti had no answers and Didier Drogba was listless, lethargic.
But what a Saturday. We went into it with everything sorted. Chelsea for the title, Manchester City to claim fourth. Now, United have to be favourites, with Arsenal - who have Wigan tomorrow - and Chelsea giving chase. And Spurs appear to have fourth wrapped up.
But with four games to go, anything could happen. Especially with Spurs travelling to Manchester United next Saturday. The run-in from hell Harry Redknapp feared could yet turn into a blaze of glory - and leave us enjoying the hottest title chase in years.