Manchester United took control of the Premiership title race with a nerve-wracking 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, with goals from the superb Antonio Valencia, and substitute Ashley Young. The ground in question has been something of a bogey place to visit for United during the Premier League years, and with Rovers fighting for survival, a victory was certainly never guaranteed. Sir Alex made three changes to the squad that overcame Fulham on Monday last week, with Javier Hernández, Paul Scholes and Phil Jones coming in place of Danny Welbeck, Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young.
The game started off with a lot of United possession, without much in the way of any attacking threat from Blackburn. Wayne Rooney, playing in a left wing role, picked out Hernández early on with a superb long ball, but the Mexican's scuffed effort from 16 yards went wide of Paul Robinson's post. He did come closer just minutes later however, after latching onto Valencia's fizzing near-post cross, only to be denied by a combination of post and Robinson's back.
On the occasions that Blackburn did manage to break, it was only through the flourishing partnership between the strength of Yakubu, and the guile of Junior Hoilett. It was on one such instance when Hoilett managed to run free of his marker in Michael Carrick to get on the end of Yakubu's flick, and took aim from 20 yards, but saw his effort saved brilliantly by the flying David de Gea. Indeed, it was the home side that then went on to have the better of the chances at the end of the first half, and it was only the heroics of De Gea, first from Marcus Olsson, and then from Grant Hanley that prevented Rovers from going into half-time with an unlikely lead.
The second half proceeded in much the same way, with a lot of United possession, but once again, Blackburn were the team with the better of the chances early on. Pedersen saw his freekick just about saved by De Gea, and then thought he scored with an a superb drive from distance off a Steven N'Zonzi cross, but was to be disappointed when the linesman flagged the ball out of play before N'Zonzi actually managed to play the ball. Rio Ferdinand then made an extremely crucial block on Yakubu, to deny the Nigerian from scoring once more against United this season.
Just when it looked like the game might have been heading towards a draw, United's candidate for player of the season in Antonio Valencia provided the crucial breakthrough. Darting in from the right for the umpteenth time in the game, he decided to change tack and not cross, but actually it across the ball as a cross-cum-shot -- a fifty-fifty, as he later described it. The ball rifled into the far end of the net, leaving Robinson no chance. This was a goal of massive importance, and there was no better indication of this fact than Valencia's ecstatic celebration -- this for a man, who is normally known for keeping his emotions to himself.
Minutes later, United then doubled the lead and effectively sealed the points, with Valencia once again involved. Cutting in from the right, he laid the ball into Young, who swivelled and blitzed his effort in the bottom corner, in a goal that amassed 37 passes -- the most for any single goal in the Premier League this season.
It was a crucial three points won by United last evening, especially since it now opens up a five point gap on City, with the potential to make it eight before they lay Arsenal at the Emirates next weekend. The win over Blackburn was a brilliant example of a team performance, with pretty much everyone contributing towards the victory. Had De Gea not made those saves in the first half, had Ferdinand not made that excellent challenge on Yakubu in the second, the result might have been so different. Let's just hope that this ability to dig deep and grind out results last with us till the end of the season -- and of course, that Antonio Valencia's awesomeness continues to baffle us all.
Best Moment: Valencia's goal
Worst Moment: When Pedersen had the ball in the net
Man of the Match: Antonio Valencia
Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester UnitedValencia 81'Young 86'(Assists: Rafael, Valencia)
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