United title hopes hit by Rovers draw

Despite dominating almost the entire game, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men

rarely looked like making their pressure tell. Paul Robinson needed

to make two excellent saves to deny Antonio Valencia before

half-time, but afterwards, with United so desperate for the points,

the former England number one had surprisingly little to do. Not

for the first time recently, Dimitar Berbatov was a major

disappointment and the fact Rio Ferdinand was feeling his groin

towards the end suggested a problem Fabio Capello will not want.

There are no worries for Chelsea though, who still lead the Red

Devils by a point, with a game in hand, knowing the main danger to

their championship aspirations now lies much closer to home, at

Arsenal. Although United had not actually lost their last three

games, that is how it felt. Even Sir Alex Ferguson spoke in those

terms ahead of the clash, a 3-2 win over Bayern Munich apparently

not enough to take away the feeling of desolation an away-goals

Champions League exit. In such circumstances, a rip-roaring

response would normally be anticipated, the players sent out to

represent Ferguson eager not to let their manager down. On this

occasion, such urgings fell on deaf ears. Although they gradually

took control, on a sunny afternoon, the first half took on the air

of a pre-season contest. On Blackburn’s part, the lack of urgency

was understandable given their position firmly wedged in mid-table.

For United it was an altogether different story. After all, they

are still supposed to be playing for the title. Indeed, while it

might only be because Chelsea were on FA Cup duty yesterday, the

prize for victory was a place at the top of the table. Despite

their torpor, United should have been in front at the break.

Valencia was the recipient of both clear-cut chances. The first was

created by Federico Macheda, making his first Premier League start

of the season. Valencia charged on to the young Italian’s neat pass

with purpose and let fly with a powerful effort that was heading

for the bottom corner until Paul Robinson made a fine low save.

Berbatov was the architect of the second. Ferguson had little

choice other than to declare his trust in the Bulgarian given Wayne

Rooney was missing with an ankle injury. But it was a largely

unhappy afternoon for United’s £30.75million record signing,

who was reduced to arm-waving and head-shaking as his meaningful

contribution until he threaded a pass through to Valencia. The

South American eagerly latched on to the chance but again Robinson

denied him, this time at close quarters. As there was no immediate

injection of focus or direction after the interval, so Ferguson

decided to sacrifice Giggs, who admittedly had been fairly

anonymous. Outstanding earlier this season, the Welshman has

struggled for form since recovering from his broken arm. His

replacement, Darron Gibson, is at least prepared to shoot, as he

proved in midweek. The Irishman’s aim was a bit askew. But at least

he tried as United’s season began to crumble around them. That

Scholes chose to play on as Berbatov was down and apparently

injured after a crunching collision with Nelsen seemed to tell its

own story about the discontent in the United camp. Friction between

Edwin van der Sar and Ferdinand would be less easy to understand,

although there was a clear lack of communication between the pair

as, under no pressure, England’s new captain booted a ball out for

a corner the keeper was about to collect. Berbatov’s unhappy

afternoon continued when he failed to test Robinson, having been

set up by Neville and then fired wide after a long throw from the

full-back bounced straight through the Blackburn defence. It was

almost an epitaph for his entire United career, and when Neville’s

late scuffed effort rolled wide, the vast travelling support knew

their season was destined to end in disappointment.