Fans in Belfast were treated to five goals and a feast of attacking football as Manchester United and an Irish League XI honoured former Reds goalkeeper Harry Gregg with a testimonial match at Windsor Park.
Sir Alex’s men proved too good on the night and ran out 4-1 winners, but the home team were competitive for long periods and contributed to an entertaining evening.
Goals from Patrice Evra, Ashley Young (2) and Wayne Rooney handed United the victory, but the real star of the night was a man whose bravery and courage at the scene of the Munich Air Disaster in 1958 will always be remembered.
In tribute, Sir Alex Ferguson took a strong squad to Belfast and, together with the Irish League XI, United’s players formed a guard of honour before kick-off to honour Gregg. Never one for the limelight, Harry accepted the gesture almost apologetically, as well as the hearty applause that resonated around Windsor Park and a fans’ mosaic that simply read: “Hero”.
When the game kicked off it took just seven minutes for United to find the net, although Nani’s volley, struck sweetly as the ball came over his shoulder, was correctly ruled out for offside. The Irish side’s first chance arrived soon afterwards, when a misplaced pass from Phil Jones gifted possession to the home team deep in Reds territory. But when the ball was worked to Chris Morrow, he could only blast over the bar.
Michael Owen missed a much more presentable chance on 18 minutes when Dimitar Berbatov raced clear and squared for the striker. Owen should have merely tapped the ball home from six yards, but instead his finish trickled tamely past the post. His blushes were only spared slightly by the assistant referee raising his flag (incorrectly this time) for offside.
United took the lead two minutes later through Evra, who darted forward from left-back and exchanged passes with Owen to find himself clean through with only goalkeeper Alan Blayney to beat. The Frenchman did that comfortably, too, belying his Reds goalscoring record.
Testimonials often boast their fair share of flicks and tricks, and there were some of those at Windsor Park. In the main, though, both sides treated the match, and each other, with plenty of respect, preferring economical rather than exhibition football… at least for the first 45 minutes.
Sir Alex made two changes at the break and handed Luke Giverin, a young full-back who’s turned out at both Academy and Reserves level this term, his first taste of first-team action. Giverin and the rest of the Reds defence were under the cosh almost immediately from the restart. Indeed, the Irish League XI drew level on 48 minutes through Chris Scannell’s close-range header.
Scannell had, just 60 seconds earlier, drawn a smart save from Anders Lindegaard to force a corner. Then, from the resulting set-piece, the Dane was again called into action, parrying well from Howard Beverland’s acrobatic volley. The ball came back into the danger area, though, and Scannell made no mistake from four yards.
Ashley Young restored the Reds’ advantage on 58 minutes when he curled in a direct free-kick from the edge of the penalty area. That prompted the introduction of Wayne Rooney, much to the delight of 15/05/2012 21:20, Report by Nick Coppack
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the 14,098 spectators, and United’s top marksman took just three minutes to get on the scoresheet, blasting home from the penalty spot after Craig Redman brought down Tom Cleverley.
Ben Amos, on for Lindegaard between the posts, did well to preserve the lead with some brave goalkeeping, before Sir Alex made a further three changes for the final 20 minutes. On came Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and young Italian defender Michele Fornasier – reward for another consistent season in the Reserves.
Scholes came close to extending the lead with a trademark volley before Young grabbed his second of the night to cap good work by Ji-sung Park down the right-hand side. The Reds continued to throw bodies forward but the Belfast crowd – made up largely of United fans – had to be content with just the five goals.
Just as well, too. Harry Gregg never liked to see the net bulge too many times…
United: Lindegaard (Amos 61); Jones, Ferdinand (Young 46), Evans, Evra (Giverin 46); Valencia (Fornasier 72), Park, Cleverley, Nani (Giggs 72); Owen (Rooney 61), Berbatov (Scholes 72)
Unused sub: Hernandez
Glory Glory Manchester United
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