Sir Alex Ferguson suffered the ignominy of watching his Manchester United side lose to basement club Blackburn on his 70th birthday.
The birthday tributes to Sir Alex Ferguson were all very well deserved but the sage of Old Trafford possibly underestimated the bottom team in the Premier League in his attempt to return to the top.
If Ferguson had been paying attention to Blackburn Rovers' creditable draw at Anfield on Boxing Day he would have known that their new strategy is to lull opponents into a false sense of security then try to nick a goal from a set piece.
They repeated the Liverpool routine here. For the first 10 minutes the game resembled a melee in a junior school playground, with all the action around one goalmouth and people queueing up to take pot shots at Mark Bunn's goal, but when Patrice Evra carelessly conceded a free-kick after showing too much of the ball to Mauro Formica after 15 minutes Dimitar Berbatov even more clumsily pulled over Chris Samba in the area and Yakubu Ayegbeni put Rovers ahead from the penalty spot.
Suddenly it did not seem such a good idea to rest Wayne Rooney, try Rafael da Silva in midfield and use Michael Carrick as centre-half, even if the last decision was forced on Ferguson by circumstance.
United were not forceful enough in midfield to chase the game with their usual vigour, and neither did they have options on the bench to counter Blackburn's organised defending and willingness to get men behind the ball.
Ferguson seemed reluctant to try Paul Pogba, despite repeatedly saying he is almost ready. There were shots from Nani, Phil Jones and Javier Hernández before the interval, but nothing demanding heroics from Bunn until Nani brought a diving save on the stroke of half-time.
Ferguson opted to send Anderson on for the second half, in place of the disappointingly ineffective Hernández, with Rafael and Antonio Valencia reverting to their more customary positions on the right flank and Danny Welbeck pushed up front.
United improved almost immediately, though before Berbatov put them on the scoresheet with a header from Rafael's volleyed cross, Yakubu exposed the frailty at the heart of the home defence by bursting explosively past Carrick and Jones to put Blackburn briefly two in front.
Berbatov cut that deficit within a minute to set up an absorbing final half-hour but with more players back in their normal positions United were making real inroads from the first time and Berbatov had a second just after an hour, sweeping a shot past Bunn after Valencia had cut back from the right-hand byline for his sixth goal in three games.
Valencia enjoyed himself so much in the second half it rather mocked Ferguson's decision to start him at right-back, but he could not keep his shot down when he had a chance to put United ahead 15 minutes from time.
The script was beginning to follow a familiar plotline, but just when it appeared United would press on to score a winner Blackburn raised the stakes again.
An enterprising run from Adam Henley won a corner off Jones, and from Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross David de Gea somehow allowed himself to be twice beaten in the air by Grant Hanley. The centre-half's first header went straight up in the air and, with De Gea flailing unconvincing, his second was unchallenged and found the back of the net.
United could not hit back again, could not even build up the usual head of steam. Their best chance came right at the death when Jones's shot was cleared off the line, by one of his team-mates as it turned out. That was bad news for William Keane but a splendid new year present for Steve Kean.
Source: Paul Wilson/Guardian.co.uk
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