Never in doubt.
Just the one change for the Tricky Reds tonight, as Sadio was dropped and replaced by Bobby. That meant the inexperienced Nat-Rhys partnership continued at centre half with Fabinho shielding in front of them.
The home side started the brighter but it was the visitors who had the first real chance, with Bobby being released by Trent and the Brazilian’s shot being blocked and ricocheting off Bailly’s arm. No pen, unsurprisingly.
United deservedly, if fortunately, took the lead after ten minutes. Fernandes tried a curler into the far corner and Phillips’ attempted clearance deflected past Alisson. 1-0 to the bad guys.
Ali had already gifted the ball straight to Cavani in the fifth minute; fortunately, the Uruguayan hitman scuffed his shot wide. United were definitely the better side for the opening twenty minutes but the tide then turned and the visitors started to take control.
We had another solid penalty shout declined in the 26th minute. Taylor, the referee, miraculously pointed to the spot when Bailly clattered into Phillips in the box; VAR overruled the referee.
The visitors only had to wait five minutes for a thoroughly deserved equaliser, though, as Nat kept the ball alive after some pinball in the box and found Jota, who backheeled deliciously beyond Henderson. 1-1.
The Reds continued to dominate and took the lead in first half stoppage time. Trent’s free kick to the far post was headed home with aplomb by Bobby, who easily beat Pogba to the ball.
As the players trudged off for their halftime oranges, it had been a half of two halves with the home side dominant early but then pinned back by the visitors. The Tricky Reds could have had two penalties and, on the balance of play, probably deserved their lead at the interval.
The second stanza started as the first had ended, with the Reds in the ascendancy, and it was soon 3-1. Shaw was dispossessed and Trent shot; Henderson saved but spilled the ball at Bobby’s feet. The bright-toothed Brazilian finished with gusto.
Jota blazed against the post when it could easily have been four just before the hour mark; Trent was denied by a low Henderson save.
Of course, our profligacy was soon punished as Cavani fed Rashford and the striker slotted past Robertson and the onrushing Alisson. 2-3. And it was nearly three all shortly afterwards, as Nat had to clear Greenwood’s shot off the line.
The home side were back on the front foot but Salah had the next chance, blazing wide after being released by Thiago. Jones and Mané replaced Gini and Jota with eighteen minutes left to play; Trent found Sadio with a beautiful pass but Henderson thwarted the Senegalese forward.
At the other end, Rashford cut inside Nat but fired into the side netting. Fernandez then had a free kick from 20-odd yards but couldn’t get the ball to dip. McTominay was booked for a late challenge on Fabinho and then, seconds later, clearly brought down Mané. Second yellow? Of course not. Not even a foul, according to the referee.
Firmino was released by Salah with five minutes left but his cross/shot drifted harmlessly over; Cavani was then booked for a late challenge. And as the home side pushed for an equaliser, Curtis released Mo and he finished with ease. 4-2 as we entered stoppage time and job done.
Next up is a trip to the West Midlands to face West Brom on Sunday afternoon. The freshly-relegated Baggies stole a thoroughly undeserved point at Anfield in January and we desperately need the three points in our quest for a top four finish.
MOTM: Silvio Denz and his team at Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey. This Premier Grand Cru Classé is one of Sauternes’ hidden gems and terrific value given its outstanding quality. Well worth a try, even for those who don’t generally like sweet wines; this one may just change your mind.
PS: Thanks to the United fans who got the game postponed last week. We probably wouldn’t have got this result seven days ago. The beers are on me, lads.