Alexis Sanchez came off the bench and rescued Manchester United – and perhaps under-fire Jose Mourinho – in a thrilling comeback win against embattled Newcastle. Newcastle, lifeless and winless heading to the north-west, looked set to ratchet up the pressure on Mourinho and sent United into a tailspin after deservedly racing into a two-goal lead through Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto.
But Old Trafford was rocking during a second half that will live long in the memory as Juan Mata and Anthony Martial struck before Sanchez snatched a last-gasp winner. They said that Jose Mourinho was a dead man walking. They said that whatever the result against Newcastle, the manager who was once special, the man who was once the king of our game, would be gone by the time Manchester United played again.
And for 70 minutes of this game, the biggest team in this country turned in a performance of such abject misery that they might as well have had a corpse for a manager and cadavers for players. Then, just when it seemed that all was lost, the players who seemed to have forsaken their manager breathed new life into him.
Whether their stirring comeback from 2-0 down to 3-2 winners will be enough to save him remains to be seen. It was tempting to think that United and Mourinho were only saved here because they finally came up against a club even more dysfunctional than they are.
Similarly, there has been a lot of speculation about Alexis Sanchez Old Traffors career. Many felt he would be offloaded to a yet unknown destination as early as the winter break. But his impact at Newcastle may have just prolonged his stay at Old Trafford.
And for almost three quarters of this match, Mourinho played silly games with his substitutions and his players played as if they had no love for their boss and no pride in their shirt. They played as if they had given up. They played as if they wanted Mourinho gone.
But in the end, they roused themselves. In the end, some instinct rose up inside them and they dredged up the victory that may prolong Mourinho’s tenure. Whether that just prolongs the agony of a managerial regime that seems to have run out of energy and run out of friends is a question for another day.
The reality is that this was still pretty desperate stuff from United. On the weekend when Liverpool and Manchester City play out a top of the table clash, this was poor man’s fare. United were lucky Newcastle were so dire and so low on confidence. Their comeback flatters them. They are still a world away from the best teams in the division.
This was just a papering over of the cracks. This was a three goal rally that makes things more difficult for Ed Woodward and his embattled Old Trafford regime. Defeat to Newcastle would have made it easier for him to end the agony. This makes it more difficult.