For the eighth time in twelve matches this season, Manchester United fell behind against Braga. Few were surprised as this has become the telling statistic from the start of the season as yet another comeback win was registered. Winning the hard way is not something novel to this football club, indeed coming back to win is patently more glorious. Yet is this negligence not the spirit of champions to be but simply a case of getting away with it?
A few weeks ago the suggestion was that after failing to record a single, meaningful win after conceding the first goal last season, the comeback wins were of a new resolve. Now it seems that not only the concession itself but the nature of the goals conceded is of a fallibility only remedied by a potent strike force. A mantra that you can score first but we will always score more than you.
Against Stoke I almost dismissed Rooney’s own goal as I sat back, noted the time on the clock and stated that there was plenty of time to get back into the game. Plus it was only Stoke after all. As it proved a trio containing Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck wrestled the game back and a victory was secured. Midweek, the opening deficit was doubled yet despite the head start gifted to Braga as soon as Hernandez pulled one back, those in-play odds of 4/1 on a United win suddenly seemed gift-wrapped.
Looking back down the years, some of the greatest moments in Manchester United’s history have been victories snatched from the jaws of defeat. Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, the Champions League in 1999, Tottenham away in 2001, Everton away in 2007, Tottenham at home in 2009.
Indeed, anyone who finds themselves dragged to the shops on a Saturday afternoon will know the undiluted joy of a comeback victory. Discovering United are behind, paying attention to whatever frock the missus is trying on, clandestinely checking the score to find an equaliser to finally stealing away when full-time approaches to confirm a late winner.
Make no mistake though, title bids are built on hard-fought, pragmatic 1-0 wins. Rack up a tally of those and it sends a message to rivals that we will score and the opposition will not. It suggests a solid grounding and a belief that one goal will be enough, whether defending a single goal lead for 85 minutes or snatching a winner at the death. Great for cateneccio aficionados but there is a certain thrill about coming back from behind.
Nearing Christmas, the tinkering and the weak spots need to be addressed. Put simply, gifting a head start to the likes of Fulham, Southampton, Liverpool (let’s be fair, a poor Liverpool side) and Stoke City is not essentially disastrous as final scorelines have proved. However, concede the first goal to our next opponents in Chelsea and Arsenal then United might run into trouble.
Some of the defending has been laughable this season. You could blame removing Michael Carrick from screening a back four into trying to marshal it is as one factor. David de Gea‘s prolonged inability to come for crosses as another. Or too much space gifted by marauding full-backs as an aside. Giving away lazy goals and gifting head starts needs to be eradicated sooner rather than later but as long as Manchester United are getting away with it no-one really minds.