Valiant turnaround are usually few and far between, normally being saved for an unforgettable cup clash, but Manchester United are close to becoming permanent comeback kings, claimed Mike Phelan yesterday.
United’s assistant manager watched as SC Braga again took the lead, this time through a careless penalty conceded by Jonny Evans, but with ten minutes left, super-sub Robin van Persie grabbed an equaliser to be followed up by a Wayne Rooney penalty and a customary Javier Hernandez strike.
After a sloppy first-half of mistakes, a ten-minute blackout when the flood lights went down rejuvenated United and a 3-1 victory sealed their Champions League qualification as group winners.
“It is a little bit surprising that we have scored three goals here tonight,” Phelan said. “In the first half we were not really doing anything in the game other than keeping possession of the ball.
“Possibly with the way the evening panned out – with the lights going out and the heavy rain, and then us having to make a quick substitution, bringing Rio Ferdinand on – I think that changed things for us, with the tempo of our game going up.
“Robin was instrumental in getting us further up the field. We played a little bit more in behind their midfield once Robin came on, and obviously he took his goal really well.”
Their 100% record in the group has been a sigh of relief for players and staff following last year’s bitterly disappointment of an early exit.
And having sidestepped the Europa League, United’s remaining two games will come as welcomed opportunities to rest key players ahead of a chaotic festive fixture list.
“Our intention this year was to get into [the knockout phase] very quickly,” Phelan said. “We were disappointing last year – the players and staff knew that, and I think the supporters wanted a reaction to that.
“I think it was really important that we got into it quickly and we have done that – four games gone and we are more than happy with it.”
“It does now give us that opportunity to have a look at a couple of other players on this stage, and I am sure we will do that,” he added, “but we have to give credit to the competition as well.
“And as Manchester United we will do that. But it was important we got the job done as quickly as possible, in order for us to concentrate on the Premier League.”
United had struggled to impose themselves for much of the game until a 12 minute second half interruption for floodlight failure, and the introduction of Van Persie livened up the Reds.
“I thought it was a difficult game, or we made it a difficult game tonight,” Phelan said, before singling out the impact of the Dutch striker in United’s comeback.
He added: “All we did in the first half was keep possession.
“We only got started when we upped the tempo, and Robin Van Persie was instrumental in getting us further up the field.”
United welcomed back long-term injury sufferer Chris Smalling for the full 90 minutes, and his presence will come as welcome relief as the Reds only have one clean sheet in their last 11 ties.