A goal in each half from Emmanuel Adebayor and Christian Eriksen gave us a dream start to 2014 as we enjoyed a fantastic 2-1 win against Manchester United at Old Trafford on New Year's Day.
Adebayor headed us in front in the 34th minute and Eriksen nodded in a second from close range in the 66th minute as we raced into a two-goal advantage at the home of the champions, and although Danny Welbeck pulled one back for United, we held on valiantly for a superb and richly-deserved three points.
We waited 23 years for a league win here – and now it’s two victories in successive seasons following last year’s 3-2 triumph!
There were three changes to the side which ended 2013 with a 3-0 win at home to Stoke City, with full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose returning to the team at the expense of Kyle Naughton and Zeki Fryers, while Etienne Capoue came into central midfield in place of the injured Paulinho. Michael Dawson captained the side once again on what was the 400th senior appearance of his career, 309 of them in our colours, and what a game it was for the skipper!
The home side were quickly out of the blocks and Danny Welbeck was almost in on goal twice in the opening minutes, the closest opportunity coming in the fifth minute. Antonio Valencia played him in behind our defence, Hugo Lloris came rushing out but both players missed the ball and although they tangled afterwards, referee Howard Webb waved play on and Dawson cleared the danger.
Just a minute later, Chris Smalling went on a surging run into the area and fired a right-foot shot which went under Lloris but hit his back leg and squirted out for a corner, which came to nothing.
Wayne Rooney then fired a 25-yard free-kick up and over the crossbar before we carved out a wonderful opportunity to take the lead on 14 minutes. Adebayor broke away down the left and fed inside to Roberto Soldado 20 yards from goal. He slid a delightful angled ball inside Evra for Lennon but the winger’s shot from eight yards was saved by the legs of David De Gea.
Both sides exchanged chances in quick succession midway through the half as Nemanja Vidic headed Adnan Januzaj’s corner just wide, before Adebayor hit a fierce 25-yard half volley which never troubled De Gea.
Then came the opening goal for us in the 34th minute and it was the result of another swift break. This time Soldado picked the ball up centrally 35 yards from goal and played it into Eriksen out on the right. The Dane cut back onto his left and delivered a deep cross which Adebayor climbed above Smalling to head back across goal and into the bottom corner, a fine goal.
And five minutes later it was almost 2-0 as we enjoyed our best spell of the half. Adebayor slipped a pass inside Evra for Lennon and his low cross to the far post found Soldado sliding in but the Spanish international just couldn’t connect properly.
As we’d expect, there was pressure from United but it was coming in the form of crosses from either side rather than anything through the middle and our defence was comfortable in clearing the danger as we went into the interval ahead.
There were no changes in personnel at half-time and the first chance of the second period fell to the champions, as former Spur Michael Carrick lifted a ball over the top of the defence which Welbeck prodded goalwards on the turn but it was straight into the arms of Lloris.
There was a moment of controversy in the 59th minute when Welbeck broke into our area, skipped past the challenge of Eriksen and then went down, but the referee again waved away United’s claims for a penalty.
United then made a double change, bringing on Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa for Carrick and Smalling, while Head Coach Tim Sherwood introduced youngster Nabil Bentaleb for Capoue.
And just moments after Bentaleb entered the fray, we went 2-0 up. Soldado picked the ball up just inside United’s half, held it up and then popped it inside to Lennon bursting through. He raced into the area, cut the ball back and there was Eriksen, stooping low in front of Valencia to head home on 66 minutes.
Our joy was short-lived though as within a minute the home side pulled one back. Januzaj’s pass from the right wing found Welbeck and he clipped the ball past Lloris for 2-1. In the aftermath of that goal, Adebayor was then stretchered off, replaced by Nacer Chadli.
The goal certainly lifted United and their fans and it was almost 2-2 when Januzaj attempted a left-footed curler but it was just wide of the far post.
We had a sight of goal in the 82nd minute when some neat possession football saw Mousa Dembele work space to fire in a 25-yard drive which Jonny Evans did well to block, before Lennon went on a fine mazy run down the left, cut inside Evra and drilled a shot straight at De Gea.
Then in the 86th minute, more controversy and further United shouts for a penalty as substitute Ashley Young found himself free down the left, confronted by the onrushing Lloris. Young reached the ball first and clipped a shot goalwards before tumbling over our French goalkeeper. Dawson cleared the danger and no penalty was given.
United piled on the pressure late on, with Vidic sending a header over, Lloris making two smart saves and Lennon clearing another Vidic header off the line, but we refused to succumb and held on for a magnificent win…much to the delight of our ecstatic travelling support at the final whistle.