Manchester United: As Nemanja Matic adds his name to club folklore, we look at the Red Devils' greatest comebacks

Matt Jones - Editor 09:54 08/03/2018
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Nemanja Matic scored a stunning late winner to win this fixture last season.

They may well still be some way off the comeback kings of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, but their sublime fightback against Crystal Palace on Monday night shows the old Manchester United are still lurking in there somewhere.

Whatever you think about the Red Devils, you have to admire their warrior spirit. Something that epitomised Ferguson’s time in charge and something that Jose Mourinho is desperately trying to foster once more.

It all appeared straightforward for United on Monday. Victory against Roy Hodgson’s relegation strugglers, missing 11 first-team players, was surely a formality.

The Eagles’ record against United in the Premier League is so bad – they hadn’t beaten them in 17 previous Premier League encounters and had only scored only five goals in that run – they might as well have renamed their home “Self-hurt” Park.

But a first league win over the visitors since 1991 seemed possible after Andros Townsend’s deflected opener and Patrick van Aanholt’s second just after half-time.

But, having put in arguably the worst first half performance of the season, United finally stirred with half an hour to go. Chris Smalling reduced the deficit to leave Eagles fans worried, and they had their wings clipped further when Romelu Lukaku equalised. Then, they were sent crashing down to the earth when Nemanja Matic thumped in a stunning winner in injury time.

It was pretty impressive, but how do you think it compares to some of United’s other great comebacks? Here, we look at 12 of the most memorable ones:

12. ASTON VILLA 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 3 – Premier League, November 10 2012

Javier Hernandez produced a remarkable substitute performance as United came from 2-0 down to beat Aston Villa. Two Andreas Weimann goals either side of half-time had Alex Ferguson’s men staring at a third league defeat of the season.

Many believe the Mexican bagged a hat-trick but the second is actually attributed to Villa defender Ron Vlaar who turned Hernandez’s off target shot past Brad Guzan – but the Little Pea certainly transformed United’s fortunes at Villa Park.

Hernandez completed the rescue act in the 87th minute, meeting Robin van Persie’s free-kick with a cushioned header into the right corner.

11. MANCHESTER UNITED 3 ASTON VILLA 2 – Premier League, April 5 2009

Poor old Villa. United, chasing down league leaders Liverpool, went ahead through Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick but conceded twice through John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor headers to make it 2-1 to the relegation-threatened visitors.

Ronaldo leveled with 10 minutes remaining but it was unheralded 17-year-old substitute Federico Macheda (bet you’d forgotten about him) who was to be United’s hero, turning smartly and sending an unstoppable curling effort past the despairing dive of Brad Friedel in the 93rd minute to win the game and regain top spot from Liverpool, with United going on to win the title.

Federico Macheda announces himself to the world with a brilliant winner against Villa.

Federico Macheda announces himself to the world with a brilliant winner against Villa.

10. MANCHESTER CITY 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 3 – Premier League, November 7 1993

We go back to just the second ever season of the Premier League for this one and a thriller between the city rivals, although City were nowhere near the force they are now.

Niall Quinn put the hosts two up by half-time at Maine Road with two headers, before a goal from Eric Cantona gave the visitors hope after 52 minutes. It looked as though it would be nothing more than a consolation, until the Frenchman tucked in Ryan Giggs’ superb cross 13 minutes from time to make it 2-2.

Summer signing Roy Keane then clinched a dramatic winner four minutes from the end, steering home Denis Irwin’s cross, to shatter City hearts and United were on their way to the double.

9. EVERTON 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 4 – Premier League, April 28 2007

Without a league trophy in four years (more normal these days than it was 11 years ago) which was a disastrous drought for Sir Alex Ferguson – United were battling defending champions Chelsea for the title.

With three games to play and three points clear of the Blues, United travelled to Goodison Park and found themselves trailing 2-0 after 50 minutes from Alan Stubbs and Manuel Fernandes goals.

A terrible blunder from Toffees stopper Iain Turner saw John O’Shea pull one back before an own goal from Red Devils old boy Phil Neville made him a saint in United’s eyes as they made it 2-2. Wayne Rooney scored against his boyhood club to make it 3-2 with 11 minutes remaining before Chris Eagles (who?) completed the comeback in the 90th minute.

8. WEST HAM 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 4 – Premier League, April 2 2011

United were 2-0 down to the relegation-threatened Hammers courtesy of two Mark Noble penalties and were lucky not to be a man down after Nemanja Vidic brought down Demba Ba for the second spot-kick.

Javier Hernandez came off the bench at the break, but it was an angry Wayne Rooney who scored a 14-minute hat-trick to turn the game and the title race around, controversially swearing into a TV camera in celebration after his third.

Hernandez put the seal on an incredible win with six minutes remaining and this vital three points deflated the chasing pack, none of whom could catch United.

7. MANCHESTER UNITED 5 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 – Premier League, April 25 2009

Only the second best five goal comeback against Spurs, this time at home after trailing 2-0 at half-time instead of three like eight years earlier.

After two goals in three minutes from Darren Bent and Luka Modric put Spurs 2-0 ahead, a dodgy penalty got United back in the game after 57 minutes. Heurelho Gomes was harshly ruled to have felled Michael Carrick and Ronaldo made it 2-1. From there you knew what was going to happen.

Three goals in four minutes from Rooney (2) and Ronaldo put them 4-2 up after 71 minutes, before Dimitar Berbatov netted against his former side to cap a crucial win that gave Fergie’s side unstoppable title-winning momentum.

6. JUVENTUS 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 3 – Champions League semi-final, April 21 1999

Arguably greater than the comeback in the final itself. Juventus had appeared in the previous three finals and comprehensively outplayed United in the first leg, as Fergie’s team scrambled a last minute equaliser to grab a 1-1 draw.

With 11 minutes gone in Turin, the Bianconeri were 2-0 up and cruising, thanks to two Filippo Inzaghi goals – the second a cruel deflection off Jaap Stam. But United kept going and a goal from skipper Roy Keane after 24 minutes – who was later booked and ruled out of the final, along with Paul Scholes – turned the tie on its head.

By half-time United were level with Dwight Yorke nodding in Andy Cole’s lofted cross. And, with six minutes remaining, Cole grabbed a deserved winner and against all the odds, United were through to the final and on their way to the treble.

A captain's goal: Roy Keane scores v Juve.

A captain’s goal: Roy Keane scores v Juve.

5. TOTTENHAM 3 MANCHESTER UNITED 5 – Premier League, September 29 2001

Spurs totally outplayed the defending champions during the first half here, going in at the break 3-0 to the good through goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege. In the second half, however, Fergie’s United were simply sensational, scoring within a minute of the restart courtesy of Cole.

Laurent Blanc made it 3-2 just before the hour and with 18 minutes remaining, United were inexplicably level through Ruud van Nistelrooy’s header. Spurs crumbled and Juan Veron sauntered through to fire in a fourth and Spurs’ misery was complete three minutes from time when David Beckham volleyed in a fifth.

4. MANCHESTER UNITED 2 LIVERPOOL 1 – FA Cup, January 24 1999

Five months before the injury time comeback against Bayern Munich clinched the treble, United laid the foundations for a remarkable season littered with trademark comebacks with a dramatic late victory over their arch rivals in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Michael Owen gave Liverpool the lead after just two minutes at Old Trafford and it seemed like it simply wouldn’t be the Red Devils’ day as they were thwarted time and again, Paul Ince clearing Roy Keane’s header off the line before his strike was deflected wide and the skipper then thumped the post.

The Red Devils were on the brink of being knocked out but with two minutes left, Beckham’s floated free-kick was headed across goal by Cole and Yorke grabbed the equaliser. To rub salt in the wounds, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stunned the visitors with a last gasp winner, slamming home in stoppage time.

3. CHELSEA 3 MANCHESTER UNITED 3 – Premier League, February 5 2012

A mesmeric comeback, thanks in no small part to another fortuitous penalty. Jonny Evans’s own goal gave Chelsea an interval lead against the run of play before a stunning volley from Juan Mata 24 seconds after the restart and David Luiz’s deflected header appeared to give Chelsea an unassailable advantage.

The hosts, who went on to win the Champions league, stupidly gave away the first penalty (not dodgy) when Daniel Sturridge clattered into Patrice Evra, with Wayne Rooney stroking it home to give his side a lifeline.

United made it 3-2 when Howard Webb awarded a second penalty for a foul on Danny Welbeck by Branislav Ivanovic (dodgy). Rooney held his nerve to make it 3-2. The comeback was complete and the stage was set for the most unbelievable final day of any season in any sport (Google it) when Giggs’ cross was nodded in by Hernandez with six minutes to go. David De Gea also memorably kept out a brilliant late Mata free-kick to earn a point.

Javier Hernandez scores United's third to cap a fine comeback against Chelsea.

Javier Hernandez scores United’s third to cap a fine comeback against Chelsea.

2. ARSENAL 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 2 – FA Cup semi-final, April 14 1999

One of the all-time great games of English football. Brilliant goals from Beckham and then Dennis Bergkamp had punctuated this game before the Gunners were given the upper hand when a fiery Keane (surely not) was sent off with 16 minutes remaining for scything down Marc Overmars.

Nicolas Anelka had seen a goal ruled out for offside minutes earlier but Arsenal had the chance to win it late on when Phil Neville clumsily felled Ray Parlour to give Arsenal a penalty. But Peter Schmeichel saved from Bergkamp before Ryan Giggs won it with one of the FA Cup’s most memorable goals. The Welsh flyer intercepted Patrick Vieira’s poor pass before slaloming past four Arsenal players and unleashing a venomous strike high past David Seaman. Incredible.

Ryan Giggs scores THAT goal against Arsenal in 1999.

Ryan Giggs scores THAT goal against Arsenal in 1999.

1 BAYERN MUNICH 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 2 – Champions League final, May 26 1999

You already know this one, right?! OK, so they didn’t come from 3-0 down or have anyone sent off, but to come back from being thoroughly outplayed and on the grandest stage of all, it’s the stuff of fairytales – or nightmares if you’re a Munich fan.

The Germans totally bossed this game and took the lead in just the sixth minute through Mario Basler’s free-kick. In the second half United somehow survived when Mehmet Scholl’s chip came back off the post and Carsten Jancker thumped the underside of the crossbar with a bicycle kick.

United looked down and out but leveled in the 91st minute when Teddy Sheringham scuffed in Giggs’ mishit shot. Bayern were broken and instead of hanging on for extra-time, they capitulated two minutes later. Another Beckham corner was flicked on by Sheringham and Solskjaer poked home the winner for one of the most heart-stopping finales to a football match you’re ever likely to see. It led to Fergie uttering the famous line: “Football, bloody hell!”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates his winner in the 1999 Champions League final.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates his winner in the 1999 Champions League final.

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