It’s hard to evaluate what we witnessed yesterday as Manchester United overcame Newcastle United 4-1 at St James’ Park. It was a 4-1 win, away from home. There were delightful performances, backed up by impressive statistics, from Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Harry Maguire, David de Gea, Bruno Fernandes and substitute Donny van de Beek.
United overcame the worst possible start, when they conceded an unlucky deflected own goal in the second minute of the game.
The Red Devils had an incredible 34 shots on goal, 28 of them on target.
United bounced back from that crushing home defeat to Tottenham and can now head into Tuesday night’s Champions League tie against PSG with momentum.
It’s hard to be negative, right?
But what would we be saying if the game had ended on the 85th minute, when the score was still 1-1?
Then, it would be just as hard to be positive, even though all those positives listed above were as true then as they were ten minutes and three goals later.
Then, we would have said, United failed to beat an abjectly poor Newcastle side despite having been awarded a very dubious penalty.
We would have said that Scott McTominay and Daniel James are not good enough and should not have been selected and that concerns are mounting over Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right back after another performance devoid of any attacking acumen whatsoever.
We’d also have said, OK, Maguire scored the goal and didn’t make any mistakes but it was almost as if Steve Bruce, the Newcastle manager who was once in Maguire’s shoes as United captain and centre-back, told his team to go easy on poor Harry and give him a chance.
Such was the absolute lack of attacking intent from the home side.
We’d have asked what the f—k Solskjaer was doing with that team selection and why he couldn’t see that if he’d picked those subs in the starting XI, the game would have been won long before.
The cameras would have been homing in on Ed Woodward with mobile phone in hand, wondering if he had Mauricio Pochettino on speed dial.
And the fact is that those negatives were probably just as true 10 minutes after that 85th minute as they were at that point.
That’s football, as they say. The fickle hand of fate and a slice of Bruno Fernandes genius came to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rescue in that 85th minute.
Sometimes a turn of fate such as that can transform history. It is hard to imagine now, but on January 7th 1990, Mark Robins tucked away a cross from Mark Hughes that won an FA Cup third round match against Nottingham Forest for United. According to folklore and the then board member Michael Knighton, the not-yet-Sir Alex Ferguson would have been sacked the next morning had the Reds not won that game.
It seems unlikely, although not completely impossible, that Solskjaer’s lucky escape will provide the springboard for a career such as that of Sir Alex. It may simply have bought him some time and breathing space. But one thing is certain: things look a lot brighter than they did at 9.44pm yesterday evening, at least for now.
This summer’s transfer window has been one of the strangest in living memory. So cast your mind back to less stressful days and test your knowledge of past United arrivals and departures in our quiz below.