Wednesday evening’s fixture against Newcastle seemed like it encompassed what a lot of fixtures have for United this season: frustration in the final third. With Tim Krul’s great handling and stability, it seemed that a stale draw was likely – something United can’t afford in the fight for the top-four. Play around the box seemed drawn out with the players failing to find that crucial cross into the box. It’s been a constant criticism. With United governing possession (67%), there was no outlet and no Falcoa or Van Persie to poach. It was rather vexing too to see Angel Di Maria not looking the signing we expect at this stage of the season and with a substitution after 59 minutes, the player’s lack of confidence and disappointment was noticeable. Fortunately for United, a revitalised, attacking Rooney is a welcome comfort. Again and again he’s proving to the workhorse that can make a difference.
The real silver lining of the season has been the squad’s unrelenting will to fight on. Something that pricks on the ears of United’s tradition of old. A victory, an equalizer, a last-minute scramble for the box has always been a club prerequisite and with Ashley Young and Adnan Januzaj’s improved form over the last few games, Van Gaal’s men finally saw a winner in the 89th minute. A lot can be said of a more confident Ashley Young but Rooney’s pressure and will to fight for the ball in the box manufactured Krul’s mistake which gave United an easy opportunity to latch victory. Credit to Young who didn’t panic when Krul’s clearance reached him. After some De Gea heroics, the victory was hard-fought but with Arsenal, Liverpool, Southampton and Spurs all in the running for European football, United’s ‘luck’ should be readily celebrated – even if goal-scoring opportunities are subdued and labored.
But can we classify the fight backs and last-minute saves as luck or a possible resurgence in the team’s inclination to stay on top of City and Chelsea? The ‘luck’ theme was also persistent in David Moyes’ short reign and a lot of fans have seen the difference the last few months. A late winner last season would have been laughable. Under Moyes, there was no Plan B. Today, there are inklings of a comeback. Perhaps it’s a change in attitude. No, United are not close to where they should be, but with Van Gaal’s stubborn, almost too calculated technical play, the three points at this time is any fan’s first choice. There is a carelessness and negligence on the ball at times and while back passes have been booed by fans, perhaps United will have to ride on both luck and will in the next few weeks with Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, City, Chelsea and Everton on the cards. It would be foolish to reserve that top-four spot but it would be encouraging to see United back in top-flight football – even if they’re just ‘getting by’ on their trademark ‘luck’. Let’s hope it rides out.