“I’m sorry boys,” said Jose Mourinho as he walked into the post match press conference following his side’s 3-2 comeback victory against Newcastle United on Saturday night.
He never made clear why, but it’s safe to say he was being sarcastic. His under-pressure side losing at home to winless Newcastle United in the Premier League would have been the biggest story in football at the moment.
Mourinho was justified in feeling relieved amid a swirl of speculation about him being fired as manager during the last weekend of action for two weeks before the international break.
He might yet lose it for his side have been wholly underwhelming so far this season, but he can at least count on the support of many Old Trafford regulars.
A minute before the final whistle, the Portuguese had looked left to see the Stretford End arising.
“Mourinho’s Red ‘n’ White army,” hollered fans in the stand. “Jose Mourinho,” chimed in another section around J Stand. “Man United will never die”.
They had just seen substitute Alexis Sanchez score a 90th minute winner, only his fourth goal in 26 games since a January move from Arsenal and his first in the league since March.
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They had seen Anthony Martial, another player who divides fan opinions, equalise after being set up by Paul Pogba on a crazy evening of football in which a 70th minute Juan Mata free-kick had propelled United back into the game.
All three goals were in front of the Stretford End, goals which fans hope will be a turning point in United’s awful season.
None of them will be getting carried away. This was only the second home win in six for Mourinho’s men.
The many concerns of those fans who fill Old Trafford every week will not evaporate during the week-long international break, but at least they went home smiling after a super comeback.
United have not scored more than two league goals at home since January and it will be remembered as vividly as the 3-2 comeback at champions-elect Manchester City in April, but it was the United of Newcastle who scored twice in the first 10 minutes.
Even before their team had gone 2-0 up with goals from Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto that left the home side reeling.
Mourinho reacted quickly and replaced Eric Bailly with Mata after just 18 minutes but the momentum was well and truly with Newcastle.
The confidence of the visiting fans belied the fact that they had yet to win any of their seven league games so far.
“Sacked in the morning,” sang 3,000 Geordies in the direction of Mourinho throughout the game. They have significant problems of their own and their sustained disdain for owner Mike Ashley was made plain with chants of “Get out of our club”.
Ashley will decide when he leaves Newcastle, while Mourinho is unlikely to have that option at Old Trafford, but he can be heartened by the support he has receiving, even when so many fans think he could be doing a much better job.
“I’m amazed,” said Mourinho when asked about their backing. “I don’t want that. If I could tell them please don’t do it I would say that. This is not about me, this is about the football club they love.
“At half time we were losing 2-0 and the fans were magnificent to the team. That’s fantastic.
"I beat Liverpool at Anfield 4-0 and I was amazed to hear the stadium singing Liverpool songs.
“(Here) I’m losing 2-0 at home in a very important match, the fans were amazing, I’m grateful for that.”
The support is not unconditional. There were also some boos amid the disbelief at half time for his side were woeful. But a significant section of fans back Mourinho over the board who they also think are culpable for the current problems.
One win over a struggling side will convince nobody, but United were hugely impressive in the last half hour and had bombarded the away goal before Mata’s breakthrough.
While the grand old stadium was rocking, Mourinho barely reacted to Sanchez’s winner. His fans did that for him.
“We did so well for 70 minutes so it’s a pity,” said his opposite number Rafa Benitez. “They (Man United) changed and put on top class players. They had four attackers and it was difficult to defend against a very good team.”
Newcastle have played against five of the top teams and have not lost by more than one goal to any of them.
Benitez has hope that they can climb the table, as they did last season where they rose to finish tenth.
Mourinho, too, has hope and belief that has been absent in recent weeks, even if he claims there is a media ‘man hunt’ against him.