The joy and despair of the last-minute goal

By Online Editorial

After Michael Owen broke Manchester City hearts on Sunday, Dan Fitch looks at the phenomenon of the last minute goal.

The pain of failure is always worse when it smacks you in the face at the last possible moment. Mentally, you have already prepared yourself to start celebrating. Then a metaphorical Kanye West suddenly appears and tells you that someone else is better.

Poor old Manchester City. They’d gone to compete in the most hyped Manchester derby for years and were ready to prove that were up there with the best.

Every time that United took the lead, City pegged them back. 1-0 became 1-1, 2-1 became 2-2 and then finally 3-2 became 3-3… or so City thought.

A 3-3 draw at Old Trafford would have represented a minor triumph for Mark Hughes’ side. The way that City came back to equalise, not once but three times, would have sent a powerful message around the world. City are the equal of United… but then came that goal.

When I saw Michael Owen stood unmarked on the left hand side of my television set, there was a certain inevitability to what followed. Giggs found him with a perfect pass and little Michael banged it into the net. The only way that he could have endeared himself more to the Old Trafford faithful is if he had smacked Carlos Tevez one during his celebration.

What made this moment so inevitable was the fact that United have done it so many times before. Seeing as he used to play for them, you’d think that Mark Hughes would be used to it. I didn’t see him complaining about the amount of injury time added when Steve Bruce scored a 97th minute winner against Sheffield Wednesday back in 1993.

The best teams keep going right to the last minute and are ready and eager to grab a win, even when they don’t deserve it. See United’s snatched Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich if you want evidence.

Michael Owen was signed by Alex Ferguson to do exactly what he did on Sunday. It’s early on in the season and things can change, but right now it seems as if Owen will be mainly used as an impact substitute, when United are chasing something from the game. This is reflected in the price of 75.0 for Owen to become the Premier League’s top scorer, having been backed as low as 10.0 before the season started.

Manchester United can now be backed at 3.7 to win the Premier League, with Chelsea the 2.32 favourites. If they are to win their fourth successive title, then I wouldn’t mind betting that there will be some more last gasp goals scored en-route.

The main rivals to Manchester United and Chelsea, will come from Liverpool and Arsenal, who back in 1989 featured in a match that boasted one of the most famous last minute goals of all time.

Needing a 2-0 win to take the title, Arsenal were 1-0 up at Anfield in added time. A hopeful ball was knocked up towards Alan Smith, who flicked the ball into the path of Michael Thomas. The rest is history.

The image that will always live with me from that match was the sight of the stricken Liverpool players who collapsed to the ground at the sight of that second goal going in. The last minute goal is football’s equivalent to a knockout blow and it’s arguable that Liverpool have never properly recovered from Thomas’s last-gasp uppercut.

Liverpool are 8.4 to win the title, with Arsenal at 10.0. Personally I don’t think that either have got it in them to take United and Chelsea to the wire.

Arsenal were the victims of my favourite last minute goal of all time. As a Spurs supporter in 1995 I remember looking at the draw for the Cup Winner’s Cup in the paper and saying to my mate, “Look, Real Zaragoza are still in there. Wouldn’t it be funny if they got to the final against Arsenal and Nayim scored the winner in the last minute”.

If I’d just had the vision to add something about that goal being scored from the halfway line, then I would now be a famous soothsayer in the tradition of Nostradamus and Mystic Meg.

Legend has it that the reason David Seaman failed to catch the ball, was that he was blinded by all the snow falling off it, as it made it’s descent from the clouds.

And that’s the last minute goal for you. A thing of rare beauty, that’s nevertheless like a dagger to the heart when you’re on the receiving end.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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