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ALEX GETS THE BUMPS; Birthday boy Ferguson hands out presents as Kean's underdogs gatecrash the party.

Byline: Alan Nixon

ManUtd 2 Blackburn 3

SIR ALEX FERGUSON has been charitable to Blackburn boss Steve Kean with kind words in his hour of crisis.

But the Old Trafford gaffer took the act of kindness a bit far with a bizarre team selection that helped Rovers pull off one of the biggest shocks in Premier League history.

Grant Hanley goes down as the match winner but Blackburn were given a real helping hand by United and their boss on his 70th birthday.

Changes galore, players out of position all over the place and stars like Wayne Rooney rested.

Fergie was left down in the dumps and had himself to blame.

Keeper David de Gea will take the rap for handing the winner to young Hanley but makeshift centre-half Michael Carrick also had a nightmare as United took too many chances with their line-up.

Even Ferguson admitted as much when the fingers started pointing and said: "We all could have done better. It's a disappointment, I could not believe that. Nobody expected that.

"We have lost two terrible goals, you can't do that against teams fighting for their lives.

"Blackburn defended really well, blocked shots on their line, but we gave them an opportunity to hang on."

A choir serenaded Ferguson with a rendition of 'Happy Birthday to You' and the crowd joined in too, but the United team was not singing from the same hymnsheet.

This had to be one of the oddest sides that Fergie has ever picked in his quarter of a century at Old Trafford - an absolute mish-mash.

Rafael da Silva returned and started in midfield, as hopelessly out of his depth as he could be, while Carrick was a very awkward centre-half.

The decision to leave Rooney in the stand when he could have won the game on his own for United was even more strange.

He was fit, available, rested ... and not overjoyed by the look on his face.

So it was no surprise that a side with ambitions as modest as those of rockbottom Rovers made their life difficult in a remarkable game. The slackness in the United ranks led to lectures for Phil Jones and a booking for Nani as their poor touches put them in trouble.

Patrice Evra escaped a yellow for a foul too, but at least they paid the penalty from the free-kick.

Dimitar Berbatov made a horrible mess of tangling with big Chris Samba and pulled his shirt in the box - bang in referee Mike Dean's view for a stonewall penalty.

Yakubu took his time to slot home from the spot and send De Gea the wrong away. The giant striker may not be mobile but few are cooler in those circumstances.

Bother Carrick was the next in the book for a sloppy foul on Mauro Formica as United laboured to get their game together all over the pitch.

Berbatov could even have given away another penalty as Rovers aimed every set-piece at Samba. They did not have to bother attacking, they just sat back and waited for that kind of chance.

Rovers were eager to defend every inch of the pitch but fell back and United eventually found their way into their box.

Jones might have scored against his old club but hit Javier Hernandez with his close-range shot. The Mexican also flashed a shot wide but even the Stretford End showed their discontent.

It is not often that you hear 'Attack, attack, attack' being roared at a club where it is in their DNA to go forward. Even Ryan Giggs' son fell asleep as he watched the first half.

There was a response as Nani finally tested Mark Bunn with a fine shot. And the stand-in keeper did well to stop Hernandez's crafty shot with his legs - but Rovers were in front at the break when the only boos were from disgruntled home fans.

Fergie sent on Anderson to boost his midfield and pushed Antonio Valencia forward but their defence swung open again dramatically.

aCtt Yakubu fed on a shocking slip by Carrick, skipped past Jones and shot through De Gea's legs to put his side two up to general disbelief.

United were given away back in from the kick-off when Steven Nzonzi's mistake let in Rafael, mf fN wB whose cross was nodded in by Berbatov from close range.

DMisery And remarkably the Red Devils were level when Valencia skinned 17-yearold Adam Henley and crossed for the Bulgarian to smash an equaliser - but even that did not solve their troubles.

-Rovers kept passing, kept going and were inspired by De Gea's handling. The young Spaniard's misery was complete with his part in the winner.

Hanley, 20, a colossus in defence, came forward and won an aerial challenge with De Gea at a corner.

Incredibly he managed to bundle in his own header as it dropped.

United could have scrambled a point when Jones' desperate shot hit young debutant sub Will Keane on the line - but they did not deserve anything for this shoddy show.

CAPTION(S):

SPAIN PAIN: De Gea looks miffed AGAINST THE ODDS: Steve Kean enjoys an unlikely victory GRANT WISH: Blackburn defender Hanley heads home the winner as Manchester United's defence stands still YAK ATTACK: Yakubu celebrates his penalty opener for Blackburn and (inset) drives home No.2 after the break
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Words:889
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