Arsenal 4 Manchester United 5
Division One, February 1, 1958. Attendance. 63,578.
Arsenal: J.Kelsey, S.Charlton, D.Evans, G.Ward, J.Fotheringham, D.Bowen, V.Groves, D.Tapscott, D.Herd, J.Bloomfield, G.Nutt.
Manchester United: H.Gregg, B.Foulkes, R.Byrne, E.Colman, M.Jones, D.Edwards, K.Morgans, B.Charlton, T.Taylor, D.Viollet, A.Scanlon.
Match Report: Although the home team were stuck firmly in the middle of the first division table going into this game the tremendous air of anticipation and excitement that followed this Manchester United side, the Busby Babes, everywhere was filling Highbury Stadium just as quickly as the thousands of eager spectators.
For Man Utd, who had made a surprisingly sluggish start to the season, this was another crucial game as they sought to claw back the deficit behind league leaders Wolves.
Just prior to christmas Busby had changed half of his faltering team with dramatic rewards and now his charges were not only winning games but producing the fast, flowing football for which they were famous.
From the kick off the confidence in the United ranks was obvious. Arsenal found themselves defending desperately as the visitors swarmed into a series of attacks down either flank. Kenny Morgans and Albert Scanlon were both quickly into action and threatening danger at every turn.
After ten minutes it was Morgans who created the opening goal. Not yet nineteen and revelling in his first spell in the team Morgans weaved his way through the left flank of the Arsenal defence before picking out the onrushing Duncan Edwards who smashed a typical drive past Jack Kelsey without breaking stride. It was the emphatic power of the shot which defeated the Welsh international keeper rather than any great placement.
Bouyed by the goal United swept further in front before the home team could draw breath. Another lightening raid, this time down the left flank, saw Scanlon burst clear and centre for Bobby Charlton, also enjoying his first prolonged spell in the team, to fire home in a manner the whole world would come to recognise.
Highbury belonged to United in this first half as this famous team gave one of its greatest exhibitions of attacking football. Founded on the power and guile of Edwards and Eddie Colman in midfield, the speed of Morgans and Scanlon down the flanks and spearheaded by the powerful, goal hungry trio of Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor they were irresistable.
Shortly before half time the lid was put on forty five minutes of footballing perfection by a mesmerising goal, the ball being switched from left wing to right by Scanlon then returned into the middle by Morgans for Taylor to sweep home.
The second half began, perhaps inevitably, in a more subdued fashion and it was beginning to seem as though the afternoon's excitement might be spent when the game suddenly exploded into life with an incredible burst of scoring by the home side.
Firstly David Herd, a prolific scorer for United in years to come, pulled a goal back before a Jimmy Bloomfield double had Arsenal level in a matter of minutes.
Again the flanks had provided the avenue to success with Vic Groves enjoying an inspired spell against United's captain and England international Roger Byrne.
Not only were the home side, astonishingly, on terms but the huge crowd, frantic with excitement, were baying for more goals. United were rattled but responded in the only way they knew how, by seeking more goals of their own.
The game was now wide open and, despite the shock of conceding three quick goals, this was to United's advantage. Their forwards clearly had the beating of the Arsenal defence to a far greater degree than was the case at the other end of the pitch. Scanlon in particular had led Stan Charlton a merry dance all afternoon and it was from another of his left wing centres that Viollet restored United's lead with a smart header of which his partner, Taylor, would have been proud.
Maybe to steal Viollet's thunder Taylor then produced a goal right out of his locker, bursting deep into the box before cracking a stinging drive through Kelsey from an unfavourable angle.
Still the game wasn't dead as Derek Tapscott, who had put as much into the game as anyone, summoned the energy to burst clear of United's defence and bring the score back to five four.
Both teams kept up the search for goals right until the final whistle but the scoring was done and United had claimed another two points in the most exhilarating manner imaginable.
As the exhausted players dragged their heavy limbs from the field the congratulations they offered each other on their efforts were matched by the crowd who cheered both teams from the pitch, even though most present had come hoping to see the Gunners victorious. Watching this young, happy, impossibly gifted team leaving the Highbury pitch it was only possible to wonder what glories lay in store for them, what performances they might produce and histories write.
Tragically, unbelievably, however, this would be the last chapter written by this team on English soil. Five days later, after one final pulsating triumph in Belgrade, the heart of this team would be ripped out by a plane crash in Munich as the party flew home from Yugoslavia.
The game, the performance, everything had been a fitting way for the Busby Babes to sign off.
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