Ryan Giggs promised us football played with style and at pace and, eventually, that’s what we got, United crushing Norwich with a second half performance that showed an uninhibited approach seen all too seldom at Old Trafford this season and cruising to victory via goals from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata.
Although United’s fans gave the interim manager and his coaching team the anticipated rapturous reception, it wasn’t until late in the second half that the team rid themselves of the edginess that has characterised so many displays this season. Though the Reds dominated possession in the early stages, there was a prevalent element of caution whenever they got into the Norwich box and too often a final ball that went agonisingly astray. This was a team, you sensed, attempting to play with adventure but still possessing an understandably low level of confidence following the season’s traumas.
When they finally began to shed this caution, the goals came quickly. Danny Welbeck was brought down in the area by Whittaker in the fortieth minute and Rooney, who’d had a quiet game until then, made no mistake from the penalty spot. The goal sparked the team into action and the second half was one-way traffic, Norwich’s need to get back into the game opening up more gaps that the Reds eagerly exploited. First, Rooney grabbed his second with a curling shot that found the net via the far post then, after Welbeck had brought a fine save out of Ruddy, substitute Mata converted a cross from Jones and grabbed a second goal himself when he headed home to tidy up after Valencia had gone close.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, as they say, and we’ve had enough false dawns this season not to get too carried away with a single convincing victory, but there was a sense that, on the evening of 26 April 2014 Manchester United rediscovered its soul, both on and off the pitch, and what might otherwise have been regarded as a fairly inconsequential victory at the end of a dismal season felt much, much sweeter than that.