There have been many days like this before, according to a man who knows a thing or two about Manchester United comebacks.
Ryan Giggs, a man who seems to be on a rampage, hoping if possible, to make himself more loved by the Old Trafford faithful by filling in at full-back for an out-of-sorts Patrice Evra, insisted the game was never gone, not for this United side.
“No matter what the score is at half-time or how badly we’re playing, we’re always capable of comebacks like that,” Giggs said. “It’s a great characteristic to have”.
A match fuelled by two sides with equal desire to achieve their contrasting goals for the season lurched around under an Upton Park sun, as roles and scorelines found themselves almost reversed from 3-0 stroll at the theatre of dreams earlier this season.
As Carlton Cole and Demba Ba menaced and threatened in the first half, Sir Alex Ferguson could be forgiven for thinking that a ground which of late had held little joy for him would be obliging this time round.
Two penalties, with each giving scarce opportunity for Ferguson to work his way into trouble from his viewpoint in the stands will have done nothing to improved his mood as the first 45 came and went. United were in shock as they walked off the pitch, have no doubt about it.
But the hairdryer never came.
For all the qualities and qualms that engulf him, the Scot can count perception as one of his greatest gifts, and this wasn’t the time for bile, but for the softer side of his nature.
“Calmness” suggested Giggs was the overriding mood in the dressing room as their recent blip in form threatened to evolve into something more serious altogether.
In a season which has bought questions over Ferguson’s stewardship to the fore, where off the pitch incidents have dented his cast-iron exterior, he would have been delighted with the response of his team.
Rooney ended a 13-game goal drought when the sides met back in August, and he was the man again, personifying all that was good about United’s second half performance. Hustle and bustle were laced liberally with flair as the tempestuous 25-year-old scored the hat-trick which took his tally to over 100 goals in the Premier League. In a season which this looked like a landmark that would remain permanently on the horizon, Rooney showed that, like his team, he was the man for the big occasion.
Both he and Giggs were the embodiment of the self-belief felt by those in a United kit; a belief which carries them to victories where other teams would have failed. This United team wouldn’t have limped to a 0-0 draw with Blackburn as Arsenal did later on Saturday evening, all but ending their title hopes.
For all the quibbles over the quality of this United side, they have a determination that most would kill for. A similar turn-around at Blackpool in January helped show this side were made of steel; this result shows they are made for silverware as they jabbed a flag emblazoned with a Man Utd logo into the Premier League trophy once more.
Seven points is too far for Arsene Wenger’s side of nearly men to come back from. They returned from Barcelona with their heads held high, but the game at the Nou Camp ripped their heart out, and there is no leniency from a United side smelling blood.
This is something palpable, felt by both those in a red shirt and feared by the opposition as they quake at the thought of defending a lead against any Ferguson’s side.
“It shows the emphasis on things here, how we don’t give up and it’s paid off. I’m starting to get a feel of the club’s never-say-die attitude and I don’t think many other teams possess that.” Young defender Chris Smalling said after the game, picking up on the common theme emerging from the away dressing room.
Questions may remain about the midfield axis which will be truly tested by those out to ruin their early victory parade in the coming weeks. Both Darren Gibson and Michael Carrick looked listless at times, while Carrick’s once impeccable distribution regularly deserted him, but Ferguson will be willing to forgive, for now.
He was too busy basking in the knowledge that as results around them tipped the trophy in their favour, his decision not to spend in the transfer market looked to be vindicated. Criticism directed towards him this season has been more ferocious than ever, something which will only sweeten the deal should they hold aloft the trophy in May.
“We played like Champions” he said after the game. A disastrous first half and a marauding comeback -For better or for worse, they did.