x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

David Moyes needs a victory to remember

A win on January 27 24 years ago was the catalyst for an unprecedented run of success for his predessesor. Oh how the beleaguered Manchester United manager needs a win tonight against Sunderland, says Richard Jolly

A dejected Moyes heads to the Old Trafford dressing room after seeing his Manchester United side eliminated from the FA Cup third round on Sunday by Premier League rivals Swansea City. Peter Powell / EPA
A dejected Moyes heads to the Old Trafford dressing room after seeing his Manchester United side eliminated from the FA Cup third round on Sunday by Premier League rivals Swansea City. Peter Powell / EPA

It is one of the most important dates in the Manchester United calendar. January 7 is the day the Red Devils took a decisive turn from underachievers to success story. January 7 was when an under-pressure manager was set on the path to silverware and, after he started winning it, he just did not stop.

David Moyes must hope history repeats itself. It was January 7, 1990, when United, without a win in eight games, travelled to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup. Mark Robins scored the goal that has gone down in folklore as saving Sir Alex Ferguson’s job, even if the United directors have continued to insist they were not about to sack him.

On January 7, 2014, another struggling Scot needs his Mark Robins moment to set up his first trophy. The English League Cup offers the only realistic opportunity this season and United visit Sunderland for tonight’s semi-final first leg. Like Ferguson 24 years ago, Moyes is waiting for the turning point in his reign. Like his compatriot then, his stock has never been lower.

Ferguson went on to win the FA Cup in 1990 and, in his parting address to the Old Trafford crowd in May, alluded to his darkest days.

“When I had bad times here the club stood by me,” he said. “All my staff stood by me, the players stood by me, you stood by me, and your job now is to stand by our new manager.”

So far most have, with considerable patience, despite plumbing depths that only long-standing fans can remember. Yet while internet message boards hum with the sound of dissent and social networking sites are populated by fans decrying the manager, the match-going public have remained remarkably loyal. There was a sprinkling of boos after Swansea City knocked United out of the FA Cup on Sunday but it was a fourth home defeat in a month.

As Moyes said, a club that used to set Europe ablaze with attacking football has had a damp squib of a campaign.

“It’s not just this period,” he said. “Near enough since the start of the season we have never really caught fire. We’ve had moments, bits of good play and some good results but not really as consistent or reliable as we’d like to be. We have to look into a lot of things.”

Tactics, team selection and transfer-market failings are principal among them. Moyes’s attempts to rest players against Swansea backfired and he is likely to recall David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick at the Stadium of Light. If fit, Wayne Rooney also will be back. More important than any player would be the return of the never-say-die attitude and winning mentality that United have mislaid under Moyes.

The greatest display of defiance came from reserve goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard. It did not come on the pitch but in front of a couple of microphones. He said: “Manchester United is not going to realign if what you mean by that is starting to look lower. That is not going to happen. This club, look at the history, is the most successful club in English football. That is not going to change. It is how it is. It is in the genes of the club.”

That seemed Ferguson’s legacy. The 1990 FA Cup was the first of 38 trophies he won at Old Trafford. The catalyst for the first has tended to deflect credit. “Retrospectively, you look at it and he saved his own job,” Robins said.

On the 24th anniversary of the most famous goal of Ferguson’s reign, it is up to Moyes to emulate his predecessor and fashion his own future.

sports@thenational.ae