Goalscorer: Yakubu 16 PEN, 51, Dimitar Berbatov 52, 62, Grant Hanley 81
Manchester United: David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones, Rafael (Will Keane 85), Ji-Sung Park, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez (Anderson 46), Danny Welbeck
Blackburn Rovers: Mark Bunn, Grant Hanley, Jason Lowe, Christopher Samba, Adam Henley, Radosav Petrovic, Ruben Rochina (Josh Morris 55), Mauro Formica (David Goodwillie 85), Steven N’Zonzi, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Yakubu (Jordan Slew 89)
Referee: Mike Dean, Attendance: 75,146
Blackburn Rovers arrived at Old Trafford on New Years’ Eve 2011 in real trouble. Despite a battling draw on Boxing Day at Anfield, they were bottom of the table and favourites to be relegated. Not only did Steve Kean have to deal with this problem, he was struggling to win over supporters who never seemed to accept him as the club’s manager.
By contrast, Manchester United were in devastating form. They had scored 10 goals in two matches without conceding and this was a chance to start 2012 as the league leaders. It was Sir Alex Ferguson’s 70th birthday. Unfortunately, his side decided to be rather charitable and gave him a nasty birthday surprise.
With the taxing festive programme, Ferguson elected to rotate his squad. Michael Carrick played as a makeshift centre-back whilst Wayne Rooney was rested. His move to leave his top goalscorer in the stands backfired. Blackburn made the better start and led after 13 minutes. From a free-kick, Dimitar Berbatov grappled with Christopher Samba and hauled the central defender to the ground. Mike Dean had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Yakubu took his time and converted the resulting spot-kick.
Whether it was the gloomy Manchester weather or the lunchtime kick-off but it took the reigning champions far too long to wake up. They only created half-chances in the first 45 minutes. Blackburn goalkeeper Mark Bunn only had two saves of real note to make. At half-time, Javier Hernandez was withdrawn and replaced by Anderson as Ferguson looked for more all-round balance.
However, Blackburn went 2-0 up six minutes after the restart as Yakubu struck again. He took advantage of some static defending, largely from ex-Blackburn defender Phil Jones. The Nigerian prodded the ball between de Gea’s legs to shock the Theatre of Dreams. Before the visitors’ could relax though, United immediately responded. Berbatov, who had scored a treble on Boxing Day at home to Wigan Athletic, made amends for his early penalty gaffe. He nodded home from close-range after Rafael’s wayward shot ended up in his path. The Bulgarian soon equalised. Antonio Valencia left 17-year-old Adam Henley behind on the right-hand side. His cross was guided home by Berbatov for his sixth goal in three games. Surely, the home side would complete the turnaround? Not so.
With 10 minutes left, Morten Gamst Pedersen’s corner was met by 20-year-old centre-back Grant Hanley. He was physically stronger than de Gea in the air, beating him to his attempted punch with a header. It was cleared off the line, but he reacted quickest to the follow-up. United nearly pinched a point in injury-time but Jones’ goal bound effort hit his own player, Will Keane on the line. All in all, it was a slumbering display from the usually reliable Red Devils.
It was a cracking win for Blackburn but they would end the season saying their goodbyes to the Premier League. Manchester United missed out on the title on goal difference to Manchester City. This was a damaging result for their title ambitions.