Match of Their Day: How Phil Neville knew his time at Manchester United was over
Phil Neville, once a blue but always a red it seems.
In this week’s Match of Their Day, defender-turned-midfielder Neville has picked his three favourite games – and they all include former club Manchester United.
Neville played nearly 400 times for the Red Devils from 1994 to 2005, winning six Premier League titles, the Champions League and three FA Cups.
He moved on to Everton, where he played more than 300 games and captained the side.
As always, one of the selections has to be a game he did not play in – but perhaps unsurprisingly it features a dramatic late United winner.
Man Utd 2-0 Arsenal
Juan Sebastian Veron scored seven league goals for United and one of those came in this game
Champions Arsenal went to Old Trafford having done the double over Manchester United the season before, but left empty handed on this occasion as a rare Red Devils combination of Juan Sebastian Veron and Paul Scholes were on the scoresheet.
The clean sheet also halted Arsenal’s scoring spree as it was the first time in 55 league outings that the Gunners had failed to find the net.
United would go on wrestle back the Premier League trophy at the end of the season by finishing top, five points clear of their rivals in second place.
Neville: “It was one of my best performances for United. I’d not played for two or three weeks before that but because of injuries I got a big opportunity. I had to break down attacks and give the ball to Veron and Scholes. Veron got a lot of stick but he was unbelievable that day.
“Before the game Sir Alex said we had to put down a marker. At the time Arsenal gave us a massive kick up the backside because they played better football than us the year before. That season we had to show our resilience and fight more than ever before.”
Man Utd 4-4 Everton
Everton skipper Neville was beaten to the header for Rooney’s goal
The game that turned the tide in the title race that year? United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s post-match assessment of his side was scathing, saying they “threw it away” and blaming “poor defending” for the “soft” goals conceded.
Nikica Jelavic had given Everton the league but the hosts turned the game around through Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Nani for a 3-1 advantage.
Marouane Fellaini, who would go on to join United, pulled one back for Everton but Rooney’s second put the hosts in control of the contest with 21 minutes remaining.
Jelavic, though, got his second and it was left to Steven Pienaar to stroke in with five minutes to go to deliver a devastating blow to United.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would lose the next match to rivals City, who went on to claim their first Premier League title with the unforgettable “Aguerooooo” moment.
Neville: “As they scored the third goal and we were walking back one of the players said ‘oi Neville, get your team to calm down now’. But I knew you had to earn those league wins and earn the right to win a title, so that struck a nerve with me and spurred me on. It riled me.
“I think that was the game that cost United the title. You could sense a nervousness in the stadium and that result gave City massive momentum.”
Man Utd 4-3 Man City
Michael Owen’s late winner in front of the Stretford End sparked pandemonium at Old Trafford
A Manchester derby classic.
Michael Owen would deliver his most memorable moment in a United shirt by coolly converting a 96th-minute finish to spark wild celebrations at the end of a topsy-turvy match.
Rooney netted the opener after just two minutes but Gareth Barry equalised soon after in the first half following Ben Foster’s mistake.
Darren Fletcher and Craig Bellamy each scored twice for their sides, including the Welshman’s 90th-minute equaliser which City thought had earned them a point.
But Owen’s late intervention proved vital, with City boss Mark Hughes bemoaning the amount of time added on.
United would go on to finish second that season, just a point adrift of champions Chelsea, while City’s revolution had just begun with a fifth-placed finish.
Neville: “I’d left by this point but at this stage City were starting to make inroads into Manchester United’s dominance but this one typified Sir Alex’s teams – never give in. It was one of the best Manchester derbies I’ve seen.”
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