Monday, 6 April 2009

Late show seals day of drama

"Never feel sorry for an opponent until you are shaking his hand," said one Manchester United supporter in the aftermath of Sunday's five-goal thriller which saw Sir Alex Ferguson's side retain pole position from Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.

Old Trafford and drama make for easy bedfellows but not even 17-year-old substitute and debutant Federico Macheda could have imagined in his wildest dreams ending a week in which he scored a hat-trick for the reserves by coming off the bench to grab a potentially decisive late winner against Aston Villa in what proved to be a see-saw encounter.

United looked on their way when Cristiano Ronaldo smashed in an early free-kick following an unfortunate James Milner backpass which Brad Friedel handled, but the manner in which Villa responded, courtesy of a John Carew equaliser and Gabriel Agbonlahor follow-up, suggested the jitters had come back to haunt the world club champions.

Ronaldo came to the rescue with a low drive in the 80th minute to bring the home side on level terms – only for Ferguson's gamble to pay dividends when Macheda sent a sublime curling effort past the helpless Friedel in the second minute of stoppage time.

Villa were crestfallen and on another day they could have inflicted a third successive defeat on United, who were missing Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand, but Ferguson's sides down the years have proved time and again they usually go to the wire.

"Winning is the name of the game at this club," said Ferguson. "Risks are part of football and this club has been that way for a long time."

Liverpool supporters' chants of "We're going to win the league" in response to their side's late win at Fulham on Saturday could prove a tad premature.

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