The under-fire manager made several bold selection calls that were vindicated as his side overturned a 2-0 first leg deficit to progress to the Champions League quarter finals
By Jonathan Birchall at Old Trafford
These nights don’t come easy and Manchester United won’t give them up without a fight. Such spring evenings have become the club’s reason for being.
For David Moyes, this was well and truly it. As all hopes of retaining the Premier League title collapsed amid the ongoing aftershock of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure from Old Trafford, Europe is all that has remained this season. In it they are just about standing, but still United quake.
This 3-0 victory over Olympiakos in front of a Stretford End still somehow keeping the faith and not, despite the pre-match rumours, tearing down the Moyes-adorned ‘Chosen One banner’, is not enough proof of a corner turned for this football club. But, finally, there is hope.
Moyes said so himself. “I don’t want to come out and say “this is the moment” but I really hope it is,” he admitted after being questioned whether the victory would galvanise his players and provide a springboard for an end of season flourish.
The United manager spoke like a man whose conviction had, frankly, been beaten out of him. This is an ego nursing bruises bigger than the bulbous, swollen eye of Antonio Valencia on Wednesday night.
If Moyes had been left under any illusions, good or bad, as to what being the manager of Manchester United is and means, the past week will have shattered them. From relentless to raucous, the pain is sharper, the focus more intense and, as he will have experienced this evening, the thrills are just that bit more thrilling.
Following Sunday’s humiliation at home to Liverpool – which Moyes couldn’t help but apologetically refer to twice during his post-match press conference – there was a sense of the slate being cleaned on Wednesday night. He now must look forward and forget the histrionics.
After all, there were personal victories for Moyes within the disposal of Olympiakos. His decision to start Ryan Giggs for the first time since January 7 proved to be a masterstroke. The Welshman, who is reportedly unhappy with his new manager’s approach, didn’t play like a man fighting against the cause. He was spellbinding. As his manager said after the game, he simply “defies his age”.
Robin van Persie, another United star said to be less than impressed by the former Everton boss, finally delivered the type of performance that saw him guide the club to their 20th title last season, securing a hat-trick before being stretchered off late on with a knock. If the Dutchman wants Moyes out he has a funny way of showing it.
To Moyes, it simply shouldn’t matter. After 9 months of trying and failing to please all comers off the pitch, the United boss needs to first and foremost focus on the issues on it if he is to survive.
His performance during the game – a vocal, engaged presence in the technical area in complete contrast to the slumped, seated figure of Sunday – gave the impression of a manager taking responsibility for a club which is still facing an unprecedented decline. For now at least, it remains his job to reverse it.
United entered 90 minutes of Champions League football for the first time in living memory not knowing when they would get another chance at it if they failed.
That, however, was never really an option and with that in mind Moyes’ side delivered a performance of such confidence that you sensed it was innate for this group of players.
As such, improbably, this season lives on at Old Trafford. United and Moyes endure.