6 March 2018

Man United vs. Crystal Palace shows how quickly opinion swings when assessing United

By Andy Mitten/ ESPN

The Selhurst Park scoreboard to the right of the Manchester United section hit 9:40pm, the signal for a group of fans travelling by the last train back to Manchester to leave the ground. Thirty diehard fans who go to every game home and away needed to catch a train from nearby Norwood Junction at 9.52pm in order to make a connection at London's Euston Station.

Those fans wouldn't have been anyone's priority when the most difficult to reach away game was shifted to a Monday night, yet for the second time in as many seasons, United got a late winner in a night match at Selhurst Park. And for the second time, those same fans missed the all-important moment, hearing the roar from platform one. "We were fuming," said one, Pat Euston.

Man United had come back from 2-0 to 2-2 when the fans left the ageing Arthur Wait Stand, with its shallow rake and obstructed view of the pitch. It was a comeback in the finest traditions of the club via a last-minute wonder goal, one which rapidly and radically transformed opinions among United's support.

I've never known a United season where the mood swings so wildly, where fans can't decide whether the team are on their way back to greatness or still trapped in a post-Ferguson slump of sub-standard football. There are cycles lasting a couple of weeks where all seems well, followed by a run when it doesn't. It used to be clear cut when you knew United weren't all that great and had little or no chance of winning anything well in advance. For years, being knocked out of the FA Cup meant the end of the season. It's like that for fans of most clubs.

Sir Alex Ferguson eventually changed United's status quo and interest was kept alive until May year after year. United had great sides, there wasn't much doubt.

Now, it's so finely balanced, so uncertain, just as it was last season. Had United failed to win the Europa League last May, 2016-17 would have been classed a failure. The outcome of one game made it a success.

United won the only trophy the club had yet to win, a trophy which meant the team played in this season's Champions League. where they've cruised through the group stage and look well placed to advance ahead of next week's home game against Sevilla. Given the mishaps of previous seasons, that shouldn't be taken for granted, yet United fans continue to be riddled with angst and frustration, where doubts are expressed as soon as something doesn't go to plan.