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12th Apr 2015

United rediscover their true spirit in rousing derby victory

Joyful and triumphant...

Nooruddean Choudry

The virtues of grit, passion, aggression and mettle are banded about far too often in English football. Today Manchester United showed each one and it was glorious.

Their comprehensive 4-2 victory over Manchester City may have lacked some quality – and a lot of tactical discipline – but it exuded the kind of mental fortitude and physical endeavour that lifted the voices and hearts of the Red congregation to joyous levels.

There have been better performances in terms of pure football under Louis van Gaal. The individuals and collective have played with more skill and composure. But today’s game was a turning point for the side. The old indomitable spirit of winners was back.

Thus far, everything has revolved around instruction and control. The players were Van Gaal’s chess pieces and they had quite rightly played to his micro-instruction. Today they seemed to perform for the fans. It was far more visceral than cerebral, and it had to be.

Their start to the game was shocking. Dull in focus and ideas, they were deservedly behind to an Aguero tap-in. Recent United sides would have crumbled and died for the next 80-odd minutes. Not this one and absolutely not today. It was a challenge to overcome.

United drove forward. They weren’t playing well and lacked cohesion but they carved their way back into the game through hard graft. Their reward was City caving in like a Thornton’s easter egg that was way past its sell-by date. The balance of the game shifted, irreversibly.

Young; then Fellaini; then Mata; then Smalling. The Manchester United goalscorers read like a register of redemption. Four men of a number who have been been down, derided and mocked. And a quartet that deserves all the plaudits for fighting back so emphatically.

No one merits more praise than Ashley Young. He stands tall today even amongst his battling pals. For so long he was the butt of every joke. The bad smell that wouldn’t go away. Now he is reborn and the star graduate of Van Gaal’s School of Meritocracy.

This expensively assembled squad have oft been criticised this season, and for good reason too. They were listless and remote for so long. But that changed today. And not since before Fergie’s final hurrah have players and fans seemed so in tune.

The official line from Van Gaal’s press conferences are often refined of their imperfect English and Van Gaal-isms, but Andy Mitten, the editor of the United We Stand fanzine, chose to repeat tonight’s sentiments verbatim. The mangled words are beautifully eloquent and apt:

“The fans can go onto the street with their hat up. They can say ‘This year we are the better team’.”