Since the former United manager’s retirement in 2013, the team have often appeared to lack many of the traits they consistently demonstrated during his reign. Their refusal to accept defeat while the Scot was in charge inspired some of their highest-profile wins.
They have gradually improved since Jose Mourinho’s appointment in 2016, but while it remains to be seen whether the Portuguese can bring back the glory days they enjoyed under Ferguson, the response on Monday was perhaps the clearest indication of his ability to do so.
United trailed to goals from Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt, the second of which came moments after Mourinho’s introduction of Marcus Rashford as a half-time substitute and the manager’s adoption of a more attacking shape. Smalling, Romelu Lukaku and then, in stoppage time, Nemanja Matic then each scored to secure an unlikely victory.
The three vital points took United back up to second in the Premier League.
Asked if the performance and spirit reminded him of playing under Ferguson, the 28-year-old Smalling said: “Yeah, it did. There’s not been many games where we’ve come back – granted, there’s not many games when we’ve gone 2-0 down – but you can see how close we are as a group that everyone celebrated together, and how much it means to us, because that was a huge win.
“Our intensity really increased and you could see probably four of (Palace’s) guys cramping up, and that gave us that edge where we thought we could go after them. Even when it was 2-2, where in some games you’d probably take that after being 2-0 down, we went after them. It was great.
“It shows that no matter how bad we might be playing in that first half, that we can go after teams. Doing it away from home – our home record’s a lot better than our away form – that’s a huge win.
“We walked in (at half-time) and already knew we weren’t playing enough, needed to increase it, and conceded so early as well (in the second half) with a sloppy goal. We had everything in front of us to do, and we did it.”
Defeat was regardless cruel on relegation-threatened Palace, who remain 18th and without a victory in six despite playing well.
Townsend had continued to impress after scoring the opening goal.
But after Palace’s second defeat in a row following a late goal – they previously conceded in the closing stages to Tottenham in a 1-0 reverse when also impressing – Townsend told the club’s official website: “Everyone is devastated.
“Twice in eight days we’ve thoroughly deserved at least a point, if not all three. We’ve been undone by a bit of quality right at the end.”
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Support for Arsene Wenger from the Arsenal fanbase appears to be waning after eighty-eight per cent of a prominent supporters group voted in favour of his contract being terminated at the end of the season.
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust canvassed their 1,000 members ahead of their annual general meeting on Monday night, with those who responded overwhelmingly calling for the Frenchman’s 21-year tenure to come to a close.
The Gunners lost a fourth game in a row following a 2-1 defeat at Brighton on Sunday which leaves Wenger’s side 13 points off the top-four.
A large majority of travelling supporters at the AMEX Stadium chanted “we want Wenger out”, with the club 33 points adrift of runaway leaders City and closer to the foot of the Premier League table than the summit.
During the current run, Arsenal were outclassed by Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final having already seen their FA Cup defence end with defeat at Nottingham Forest in the third round.
The only remaining hope for silverware, and a return to the Champions League, is to win the Europa League with Arsenal’s first leg of their round of 16 clash against AC Milan taking place in the San Siro on Thursday.
Arsene Wenger has today spoken with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke who has reiterated his full support for him to continue until the end of next season. Kroenke has urged the board to get behind the Arsenal manager for another season with a view to a possible renewal #AFC— David Ornstein (@aliladiere) March 6, 2018
Ahead of that game, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) held their annual general meeting.
And, following a run of eight defeats in 13 games, the majority of respondents to a members’ survey were clear what they wanted to see.
“In a survey conducted online & at tonight’s meeting 88 per cent of AST members vote for Arsenal ending Arsene Wenger’s contract when position reviewed this summer (seven per cent for staying on and five per cent don’t know yet),” a tweet from the AST Twitter account read.
Arsenal went through a similarly poor run of form at the same stage of last season, losing seven in 12 before chief executive Ivan Gazidis said those results would be a “catalyst for change”.
Wenger’s position was uncertain during that spell as his contract was due to expire but, despite Gazidis’ words and a number of matchday protests and marches, he penned a new two-year deal after guiding Arsenal to a third FA Cup in four years.
AST held a similar vote 12 months ago where 78 per cent of respondents called on no new contract to be offered to Wenger and, despite that recent FA Cup success, more of the trustees now want the 68-year-old removed from office.
Asked after a 3-0 Premier League reverse to Manchester City last Thursday, Wenger said: “I’m always ready for a fight. I’m of course very disappointed but I’ve experienced these situations before. I’ve faced difficult situations in my life and it helps to deal with that.”
Defeat to Milan over two legs could see the most difficult of situations presented to Wenger, who has also now conceded he had to be “realistic” of the importance the Europa League now holds.
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Nemanja Matic’s stoppage-time strike secured an unlikely three points that took them back up to second in the Premier League, ahead of Saturday’s showdown with rivals Liverpool.
They went two down shortly after half-time when Patrick van Aanholt’s finish doubled the advantage Andros Townsend had already given Palace, but Chris Smalling, Romelu Lukaku and then Matic broke the hosts’ hearts to leave them in 18th place.
“(It was) a remarkable comeback, but we made mistakes,” said Mourinho, 55. “A fantastic comeback, but mistakes. The attitude, the intensity, the quality, the dynamic, the risk were fantastic. We needed that little bit of luck to win in the last minute.
“But I’d say we deserved it because the dominance in that last half-hour was huge.”
The first goal is a bad goal”, he added. “In the second half we were all expecting a direct comeback, and then we concede a goal that is a good goal to show the kids in the academies in the country.
“Palace did very, very well. Roy (Hodgson, their manager) was aggressive. Roy was clever. He went direct and tried to bring the emotion to the game to his team, which he did, and they were always dangerous.
“It’s very hard for them to lose and go home without a single point, because they gave absolutely everything.”
Match-winner Matic hailed his teammates fightback but admitted United must do more if they are to challenge Manchester City for the title next season.
“I’m happy I’ve scored my first goal for Manchester United,” he said. “I know it’s not my job but I’m glad it got us the three points.”
“After the second goal it was very difficult for us to come back; we showed character and did exactly what the manager wanted us to do,” the Serbian said.
“In these kind of games, if we can manage to win we can compete for the title. The quality is there but we have to be honest: we need to do more.”
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