SAF reflects on United success
Sir Alex Ferguson has no doubt where the Premier League title began to turn in Manchester United's direction - April's 4-2 victory at West Ham.
Saturday, April 2, his team trailing 2-0 to West Ham, their awful away form set to continue.
From nowhere, the recovery began. Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick, Javier Hernandez grabbed another.
It began a run that ended with a Rooney penalty at Ewood Park on Saturday that confirmed United as champions for a record 19th time.
"The game that changed the season?," said Ferguson. "West Ham. We were 2-0 down at half-time and that put the fear of God into a lot of them. Me included."
It was a rare admission of doubt from Ferguson. Yet it seemed almost cathartic. Because this most single-minded of individuals also expressed his fear that, having fallen behind to Brett Emerton's first-half opener at Blackburn yesterday, United would not turn the situation around.
"I do sometimes doubt they won't score," said Ferguson.
"I couldn't see us scoring against Blackburn. I really couldn't.
"I thought it was going to be one of those days."
Rooney came to the rescue after Hernandez had been brought down by Robinson, firing home a goal that triggered wild celebrations from United supporters and players as they gloried in finally knocking Liverpool off their perch.
"It is difficult to say where they stand, we have had some great teams at this club," said Ferguson as he assessed his present side's merit.
"The 1994 team and the one in 1999 stand out, but all our teams have risen to the challenge, which at this club is to win things.
"Some of the young players had their first trophy today - Antonio Valencia, Darron Gibson, Hernandez, Chris Smalling - and that gives them the impetus to move on and realise what being a Manchester United player involves."
Although Valencia has been excellent since his return from major ankle surgery, Gibson has made telling contributions and Smalling performed with admirable maturity when standing in for Rio Ferdinand, Hernandez is the medal virgin who made the biggest impact.
At 22, his first season of English football was supposed to be a learning curve. He completed it far quicker than anyone imagined.
And although Ferguson accepted the Mexican did not produce one of his better performances at Ewood Park, had the player-of-the-year voting been taking place now, Hernandez would not be far away from winning it.
"Hernandez wants to learn," reflected Ferguson.
"He is a very receptive person and a dedicated boy who has met all the challenges asked of him.
"He is always a threat, he is always looking to get by people and is always making defenders turn towards the goal. That is a great asset."
Crucially, he also seems to bring out the best in Rooney.
"They have terrific qualities when it comes to playing against anyone," said Ferguson.
"It was there last week in a game that really mattered, against Chelsea, the champions and the team that have been our strongest challengers for the last six years."
Together with the understated contributions of Park Ji-sung and Darren Fletcher, it probably explains why United have tended to be criticised far more than any champion side of recent history.
Even as their new status is confirmed, there are plenty who feel United are a pale imitation of past incarnations.
However, at Wembley on May 28, United have the chance to end all debate by beating Barcelona to win the European Cup for a fourth time.
"Beating Barcelona would end all arguments about this team," said Ferguson.
"That is their challenge at Wembley.
"There is nothing wrong with accepting challenges, we are good at that.
"It doesn't matter where the challenge comes from, you have to stand up to the mark.
"We have shown resilience and our home form has been great so I think we are okay.
"I know we are playing a terrific team in Barcelona but would you back against us in a big way? I don't think you would.
"We are capable of doing very well."