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Jan 25, 2011

United survive huge scare at Blackpool

Manchester United's invincible run underwent arguably its toughest examination of the season at Bloomfield Road, and it required the withdrawal of Wayne Rooney to inspire a late rescue act as they hit back from two down to win 3-2 at Blackpool.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men had not lost any of their previous 22 Premier League outings this season, but dreams of emulating Arsenal's invincibles looked set to be dashed as Ian Holloway's Blackpool flew into a two-goal lead through Craig Cathcart and DJ Campbell. However, Sir Alex Ferguson sent on Javier Hernandez for Rooney with 24 minutes remaining, and the Mexican grabbed the equaliser in between a Dimitar Berbatov brace as United turned the game on its head in the last 18 minutes.

Blackpool will feel plenty of cause to complain though, after they were denied what appeared to be a blatant penalty when 2-0 ahead. Luke Varney was unceremoniously shunted over by Rafael da Silva, and Holloway's reaction told the story as the referee refused to point to the spot.

Much focus was on Liverpool target Charlie Adam ahead of kick-off, following his recent rejected transfer request, yet his first significant involvement in an impressive individual display was to earn the wrath of United boss Ferguson, who was left fuming after the Blackpool midfielder left Patrice Evra a bloodied mess on the deck. With Evra off receiving treatment, Blackpool worked upfield to claim a corner, from which Adam sent in a fizzing delivery to the back post where Cathcart, who spent four years at United as a youngster, powered home a towering header.

United were rocked, and Blackpool pounced on their advantage in what had become a cup-tie atmosphere, creating a plethora of further chances. First Alex Baptiste wasted a glorious opportunity from near the penalty spot, and then Nemanja Vidic got too much on a stooping header back to Edwin van der Sar, forcing the Dutchman into a superb reaction stop.

The first shot on target from United did not arrive until after the half-hour, and it still did not signal a fightback as Blackpool quickly made it 2-0. First David Vaughan forced Van der Sar to turn the ball around the post, and from the resulting corner Campbell produced a carbon copy of Cathcart's opener from another Adam set-piece.

Any thoughts that the infamous Ferguson hair-dryer treatment might make a difference at the break were doused inside 30 seconds of the restart, with Rafael forced to clear from underneath his own crossbar from Gary Taylor-Fletcher's cross. At the other end, Richard Kingson's first significant involvement finally arrived as he saved superbly down to his left from Nani, but moments later Blackpool should have had a golden chance to make it 3-0 when Varney was denied a penalty when barged over by Rafael.

Ferguson had seen enough, hauling off Rooney for Hernandez, and the change made an instant impact with two goals in three minutes. The first was inspired by Nani, whose excellent through-ball allowed Darren Fletcher to set up Berbatov for a tap-in, and then Hernandez latched onto Ryan Giggs' glorious pass to level the scores.

A United winner was inevitable, and Berbatov strolled onto another sumptuous pass from Paul Scholes to fire home the decider with two minutes remaining, before United negotiated 10 minutes of injury-time following a serious-looking neck injury for Rafael.

Also on Tuesday night, Wigan remain in the relegation zone after they were beaten 2-1 by Aston Villa at the DW Stadium. The result leaves Roberto Martinez's men one point behind 17th-placed Birmingham, having played two extra games.

Darren Bent attempted to add to his debut goal scored against Manchester City following his £18 million switch to Villa, but a fine early chance went begging thanks to a great save by Ali Al Habsi after 10 minutes.

Wigan, who started with Mohamed Diame on the bench after his recent alleged criticisms of the town, offered plenty in the attacking third but too often their finishing was wayward as seven of 10 first-half efforts missed the target.

The opening goal arrived five minutes into the second half when Al Habsi made another fine save from Carlos Cuellar, only to see Gabriel Agbonlahor pounce on the rebound for his first league goal of the season.

Ashley Young then won and converted a penalty for Villa's second, and Gerard Houllier's men held on despite James McCarthy's late consolation.

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