In an article in this space not so long ago, surprise and no little jealousy was expressed at seeing Sean Boylan attending the National League meeting of Dublin and Meath at Parnell Park. Owing to the Covid-19 restrictions and the perception – back then at least – that it was predominantly people of certain vintage that were thought to be at greatest risk from the vile thing.
For the sake of fairness and to dispel rumours a ‘pop’ was being had at the neighbour, similar sentiments abided upon sight of Sir Alex Ferguson – 79 since New Year’s Eve – in situ at some of Manchester United’s recent matches. Could be it be more than coincidence that there has been a dramatic improvement in the output of the Old Trafford team riding shotgun to the return of the man whose shadow and legacy looms large over the club.
Early in Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s tenure, it emerged that the former striker had brought his old boss in to do a session with the current players. You can only imagine the impact that would’ve had on the stars of today. Indeed, such has been the elevation in their productivity lately you’d wonder was he in visiting again.
Some of the football the current league leaders have produced lately, and how they went about it, bore echoes of the past whilst also pointing towards a bright future. Never was that more evident than in Act II of the two-part drama against Liverpool.
Now, naturally, continually falling behind would not be in the script, but the manner in which they’ve been holding their composure and working their way back into games and in fact bombarding their opponents into submission in a manner that almost paid homage to what transpired in Fergie’s time.
Mention has been made here previously of the almost constant siege of pressure directed at Solksjaer. What gets overlooked sometimes however is the amount of good the man from Norway has brought to the club since his shock appointment. Or brought back to the Theatre Of Dreams might be more accurate.
Thus, when a rejuvenated Mo Salah had put Liverpool in front, there was no sense of panic. In fact, there was almost a sense of the inevitable when Mason Greenwood drilled home a magnificent leveller after an exquisite ball from Marcus Rashford.
The latter has been one of the main catalysts behind United’s revival in recent times. Something exhibited once again almost immediately after the restart when the young Liverpool defender dived in, allowing him skip past before calmly tucking a classy finish beyond Allison in the champion’s goal.
The point was made in this space not so long ago that Jurgen Klopp’s side couldn’t have detrimentally deteriorated that badly that quickly. Those of you old enough may recall a period when in the space of a week United lost 5-0 to Newcastle and 6-3 against Southampton at the dear old Dell (the day of the infamous grey shirts) and still went on to take the title.
If anybody needed reminding of that fact they got it fairly lively when James Milner pounced on a slack pass by Edinson Cavani before Salah drilled past Dean Henderson again to leave Sunday evening overtime looking a distinct possibility.
THIS KUYT DIDN’T FLY
But then the young netminder – who is looking ever more like he should be first choice between the posts – produced another commendable stop, thus thwarting the excellent Egyptian’s efforts at being the first Anfield representative to net a hat-trick at United’s expense since Dirk Kuyt nearly two decades previously.
Thereafter, in a manner that had United of old stamped all over it, the home side made their opponents pay for their profligacy execution style with a blitzkreig counter attack which brought memories of the club’s golden era flooding back. Albeit with a considerable side order of assistance from the referee who awarded Cavani a rather dubious free kick after the forward had absolutely manufactured the opportunity for himself.
There was nothing dodgy, though, about the way in which the Red Devils’ new cult hero Bruno Fernandes essayed the final chapter of this epic story to the bottom left hand corner of the net reminiscent of what Cantona and Beckham and Ronaldo had done before him.
You suspect, mind you, that the most intriguing stanzas in this particular drama may still have to be penned. More pointedly, also, that putting the hush on the noisy neighbours could hold the key to something very special indeed unfolding.