Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs this afternoon ripped a famous point out of Norwich’s hands with a 92nd minute winner that could yet to decide the fate of this season’s Premier League title.
Grant Holt’s tenth league goal of the season seven minutes from the end of normal time had looked all set to throw a huge spanner into United’s title hopes as the Canaries delivered a magnificent team performance against the visiting Manchester giants and sought to avoid Paul Lambert’s first-ever ‘double’ club defeat by digging in and seeing out a 1-1 draw.
But two minutes into added-on time and Ashley Young’s far post cross found the 38-year-old Giggs stealing in unmarked at the far post. Given this was his 900th appearance in a United shirt, the wild celebrations that followed his winning strike can almost be forgiven – even if it did break every Canary heart in the building.
It is, as everyone noted, why they are the champions they are; that ability to win games in the unlikeliest and, on the day, unfairest of circumstances. One Paul Scholes had opened the scoring seven minutes into an absorbing contest.
“I thought we were excellent, but Manchester United have done that for the last 25 years,” said Lambert afterwards, with the names P Scholes and R Giggs figuring on the score-sheet once again.
It sums up the level of Giggs’ personal achievement that his first goal for United at Carrow Road came 19 years ago – in the 1992-93 season.
Two minutes into injury time – two years short of his 40th birthday – and he is still stealing in at the far post and digging out three more, big points for his beloved employers.
Norwich, of course, have had more than their fair share of late winners; today and the boot was on the other foot as United kept hard on the heels of their nearest neighbours.
“I’ve just got to take my medicine,” added the Canary chief. “But we gave it everything – that was a huge performance. We gave it everything.”
He was swift to acknowledge, however, those two names on the score-sheet.
“Listen, those two have been a huge part of Manchester United’s history – and they know how to win. They have won major, major tournaments throughout their time. They are just two fabulous footballers.”
Earlier it came as little surprise to find the ‘Leicester Four’ back in the heart of proceedings this afternoon, as skipper Holt, defender Kyle Naughton, keeper John Ruddy and midfielder Andrew Surman all returned to Lambert’s starting plans.
With Russell Martin out with flu, there was space for Zak Whitbread to return alongside Elliott Ward, while the midfield was re-shuffled to enable Bradley Johnson to get stuck in to Nani, Scholes, Carrick and Co.
The manager’s best-laid plans, however, lasted little more than six minutes before United stole into an early lead.
Nani’s delicate cross from the visitors right was allowed to bounce up in the heart of the Canary six-yard box and there was the recently-retired Scholes – arriving wholly unannounced behind David Fox – to nod the simplest of headers beyond Ruddy. The delivery was key. Straight from the top drawer as United made Norwich’s brighter earlier possession count for diddly-squat.
Ruddy had to be at full-stretch to push Danny Welbeck’s 16th minute effort wide for a corner as United looked to double their advantage and, potentially, end the contest within the opening 20 minutes.
City’s first chance – and one they wholly deserved on the pressure of play – arrived on 26 minutes as Johnson lofted a decent, early cross towards the far post where Holt found half a yard in Rio Ferdinand’s shadow. Alas his aim was less than true as the ball flew high and wide of the target.
The second opportunity moments later was even better as Naughton produced a glorious, clipped pass to set Anthony Pilkington in behind Patrice Evra. The winger’s first touch was exemplary; his second – an instinctive dig goalwards – demanded a fine, reaction stop from David de Gea as Norwich turned up the heat on the visiting champions.
The United keeper needed to pull out a second, sharp save on 35 minutes as Pilkington’s whipped near-post cross found Holt’s head. A foot either side and Norwich could have levelled.
Johnson, in particular, was having a ball – early yellow card notwithstanding. Having put Pilkington in for the Holt cross, he then dropped the perfect ball for Surman to collect through the inside left channel. Once again, the ball just failed to drop right as Norwich continued to dominate.
If only to keep Sir Alex guessing, Lambert made his first change of the afternoon at the interval as Wes Hoolahan replaced Simeon Jackson and the Dubliner immediately dropped into the little hole off Holt.
The second-half initially proved something of a war of attrition possession-wise with chances at a premium. Welbeck had one – only for the ever-alert Whitbread to hook the ball clear with Ruddy beaten.
Giggs almost made his mark some 20 minutes earlier as his side-foot effort off a 72nd minute Phil Jones cross pinged up and over off the Norwich bar. His moment would have to wait a-while.
With Aaron Wilbraham on for Pilkington, City began to adopt a more direct approach to the United goal only for the ever-green Scholes to mop deep in his own box. The natives were out of their seats in the 76th minute as Hoolahan’s dinked cross appeared to fall back of Evra’s elbow.
A rare error from Scholes five minutes later let Wilbraham bear down on goal; de Gea had to flick the ball one-handed over the bar to deny Norwich that richly-deserved leveller.
Moments later, however, and the United keeper was finally beaten. He – nor his illustrious team-mates – had no answer to Holt, as the Canary skipper collected a Whitbread knockdown with his first touch and with his second drove Norwich level with an angled effort high and away to de Gea’s right.
The Canaries rode their luck when Welbeck missed a sitter of a header from a Giggs floating cross, but with Carrow Road in full voice, the Canaries dug in. Until, of course, Giggs wrote himself another chapter in United folklore.