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26 Jan 2011

Manchester United staged a stunning late comeback to go five points clear at the top of the Premier League table with victory at Blackpool.

United's attempt to extend their unbeaten league sequence to 23 games this season looked to be in shreds as the Seasiders - managed by Ian Holloway - roared into a fully deserved two-goal lead at the interval.

Blackpool still held the advantage given to them by two headed goals, from former United youngster Craig Cathcart and DJ Campbell, with only 18 minutes left - but they were then hit by a torrent of attacks that brought United boss Sir Alex Ferguson's visitors an unlikely triumph.

And Ferguson himself was able to take much of the credit for the turnaround following his decision to remove a subdued Wayne Rooney after 66 minutes and replace the England man with Javier Hernandez, who went on to play a crucial role in United's fightback.

Dimitar Berbatov found the first cracks in the home side's resilience when he pulled one back from close range and Hernandez himself drew the visitors level with a composed finish three minutes later as Bloomfield Road's earlier jubilation turned to despair.

And after a lengthy delay caused by an injury to Rafael da Silva - which resulted in 10 minutes of stoppage time - Berbatov maintained his golden run of form by punishing more gaps in Blackpool's rearguard to fire home the winner with his 19th league goal of the campaign.

It was a bitter pill for Holloway and his players, who performed magnificently in the first half to take full toll on a shoddy United display, to swallow as they slumped on the turf at the final whistle.

At the heart of that dramatic opening period was in-demand midfield man Charlie Adam, who continues to be pursued by Liverpool and has informed Blackpool of his desire to leave.

Adam dictated the game in an enthralling opening half, showing his full range of passes and providing both of the corners from which the Seasiders scored.

He gave a display that fully justified Holloway's insistence that he is worth more than the £4m currently on offer from Liverpool.

Blackpool may feel the game turned on the moment early in the second half when referee Peter Walton rejected penalty claims as Rafael appeared to bundle Luke Varney to the ground in the area.

From then on the visitors, inspired by the composure provided by Ryan Giggs after he came on for Darron Gibson at half-time, managed to unscramble their senses to slowly but surely overpower gallant Blackpool.

In another demonstration of the resilience and never-say-die spirit that is built into this United side, they hunted Blackpool down once they had the whiff of victory and there was almost an inevitability about the final outcome once they found a foothold in the game.

The only cloud on their night was that injury to Rafael, who was followed off the pitch by his anxious brother Fabio as he was stretchered away down the tunnel.

Holloway had no hesitation in including Adam in his starting line-up - and the Blackpool boss was rewarded as the Scot emerged as the stand-out performer in a memorable first half.

Recovering from an early arm injury that required treatment, Adam was heavily involved and left United defender Patrice Evra with a facial injury following a clash near the touchline that infuriated Ferguson, who remonstrated with referee Walton.

Evra was only just recovering his position after a spell of treatment when the home side took the lead in the 15th minute, Cathcart losing his marker Berbatov to power a header past goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

Blackpool's fearless and positive approach had United rattled, an uncertainly that was underlined when Van der Sar had to react swiftly to prevent Nemanja Vidic turning Adam's dangerous cross into his own net.

Seconds later Elliot Grandin blazed over the top from 10 yards when a second goal looked certain.

Ferguson attempted to inject some urgency into United by moving Rooney inside from his left-flank position in support of Berbatov - but still it was Blackpool who were in control and they deservedly doubled their lead two minutes before the interval.

Van der Sar did superbly to turn David Vaughan's shot away for a corner, but there was to be no reprieve for United. Adam's corner glanced off Gibson and Campbell was alert at the far post to send Bloomfield Road into ecstasy.

Ferguson, who presumably showed no mercy to his shambolic side at half-time, sent on Giggs for Gibson and United immediately showed a greater sense of urgency.

It was the Seasiders, however, who were swiftly on the attack again and they had very presentable claims for a penalty waved away as Varney tumbled under a challenge from Rafael.

Blackpool keeper Richard Kingson was finally tested by efforts from Nani and Paul Scholes but United's lack of sustained threat prompted Ferguson to remove Rooney and send on Hernandez.

The results were spectacular as Ferguson's men launched a stunning revival with two goals in the space of three minutes. Berbatov was the first to strike with 18 minutes left as he turned in Darren Fletcher's cross before Hernandez raced on to Giggs's pass and steered his finish past Kingson.

United had the momentum, but it was halted when defender Rafael fell awkwardly and required lengthy treatment behind the goal before being stretchered away.

After a delay that resulted in such a lengthy spell of stoppage time, United soon picked up the pace again and with three minutes of normal time Berbatov took control inside the Blackpool area to bury his finish emphatically beyond Kingson after running on to Scholes's pass.

Blackpool had nothing left to give, despite that lengthy period of injury time, and United had once again produced the sort of fightback that has become their trademark under Ferguson.


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