By Fraser Dainton at Old Trafford
Last Updated: 06/10/18 11:40pm
Jose Mourinho seemed determined to fight for his team and his job as Manchester United came from behind to beat Newcastle on an emotional night
If you were a casual football fan, this might have seemed like any other Saturday afternoon at Old Trafford.
The sky was a beautiful blue, warm sunshine made for a buoyant mood as fans appeared positive, took pictures, and bought scarves. All seemed so normal.
And yet, overnight, reports emerged that manager Jose Mourinho would be sacked regardless of the result. By morning, the club had issued a denial.
Mourinho smiled and looked positive before kick-off despite overnight reports he could be sacked after the game
So how would this affect the players? The fans? What would happen next if another game was lost?
The team-sheet arrived in the press room. One name was conspicuous by its absence – the skipper Antonio Valencia. Having liked an Instagram post that called for Mourinho to be sacked earlier this week, apparently by accident, was he paying the price? Or was it purely tactical?
Either way, Mourinho carried on regardless. As he emerged from the dressing room and the teams lined up, he appeared unfazed as he shook hands with Newcastle players, and gave the young mascot a big hug and smile.
Mourinho seemed confident as he greeted Rafa Benitez before kick-off
Marching into the ‘theatre of dreams’ behind his team, Mourinho exchanged words with the fourth official, cutting another smile. Like the mood around him, Mourinho dressed all in black, but he still cut a confident stride as he picked up a water bottle and playfully squirted the camera man who was following his every move. If he was under pressure, he wasn’t showing it.
But within minutes of kick-off, Mourinho’s mood was as dark as his clothes, and sections of fans began to follow. United were 2-0 down to second-bottom Newcastle, with just 10 minutes on the clock.
When Kenedy scored the opener, Mourinho screamed at his players, his hands pointing at where he thought the blame should go. A few boos crept in, but were drowned out by support from the Stretford End.
Mourinho’s mood darkened after the first 10 minutes, in which United conceded twice and looked nervy
When the second goal went in, the entire home gathering went from annoyance to disbelief, stunned into silence. Mourinho’s eyes were wide open with rage. Nobody – not even he – could understand what was happening.
He rolled the dice, taking off Eric Bailly, putting on Juan Mata, and moving Scott McTominay to centre-back. Amid the quiet, a I heard a United fan say: “What the hell is he doing? How could this club not buy a centre half?”
The whistle went on a torturous first half and more boos rang out. Mourinho turned to glance at his bench and then sprinted down the touchline to the tunnel. Clearly a miracle was needed.
Mourinho applauded the fans at full-time as they sang his name, following a dramatic 3-2 comeback
In the media room, heads were shaking with incredulity as the replays played out; no one could take in what they had seen. And the same word – “embarrassing” – could be heard dotted in conversation.
Mourinho acted with Marouane Fellaini replacing McTominay, and the Belgian was immediately thrust into action, laying off a pass to Ashley Young to test the ‘keeper, the loose ball blazed over by Nemanja Matic. Mata shot just wide. Rashford headed just over. The fans responded with encouragement. Something was building.
Mourinho made his last play, bringing on Alexis Sanchez for Rashford. Mata’s free-kick pulled a goal back and suddenly, Old Trafford was erupting. There was a shred of belief. And yet Mourinho stood motionless on the touchline, focused.
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As Anthony Martial’s equaliser went in and the noise deafened, the Portuguese ushered them back for the restart. Defying the odds, Sanchez headed home the winner, but still Jose was thinking tactically, and beckoned Matic for instructions.
At the final whistle, the home fans sang the manager’s name. Mourinho gestured towards the camera, and clapped those that remained vehemently behind him.
United had showed incredible spirit to come back from the depths of despair; from an abject first half to an admirable second.
But questions still remain: Did they do it for him? Is it papering over the cracks? iIs it enough to save Jose Mourinho’s job?