Luck of the Irish?

It was during the second half of Saturday’s game between Liverpool and Man U that Andy Gray made the fateful observation that having Mikael Silvestre, Wes Brown and John O’Shea on the bench was not exactly the kind of firepower you needed to win a match.

Sure enough, deep into injury time – and reduced to ten men thanks to Paul Scholes’ attempted haymaker aimed at Xabi Alonso – it was the Irish international O’Shea who was John(ny)-on-the-spot to lash home the game’s only goal from close range.

It was the second consecutive game where United had found a crucial goal in the closing moments to win a game they really had no right to win.

Is this good luck? Or is there more than that?

While any championship-winning side must inevitably benefit from a share of good fortune at some point in the season, there is also an argument that good teams make their own luck. The great golfer Gary Player summed it up best when he wryly noted “The harder I practise, the luckier I get.”

It is no coincidence that a team of the ability, spirit and doggedness of United have been able to turn draws into wins, just as Chelsea have demonstrated the ability to score crucial late goals, and Arsenal have rescued more points after going behind than any other Premiership team this season.

Conversely, teams at the wrong end of the division always seem to possess an unerring knack of being dealt the bum cards. West Ham lead 2-0 and then 3-2 with five minutes left against Spurs, only to lose 4-3. Bad luck? Maybe. Naivety, lack of confidence and an absence of composure? Absolutely. Ditto Watford. Blowing a 2-0 lead at home to fellow strugglers Charlton a week after a 1-0 advantage against ten-man Wigan is hardly misfortune.

Sure, it could be argued there was an element of the proverbial “luck of the Irish” that Man U somehow contrived to win a game they looked more likely to lose throughout. But few teams would have believed they could turn things round so late in the game the way United did.

It’s at this point I’m supposed to trot out all the usual truisms about how good teams make their own luck. Or about how champions are the teams who can win when they’re playing badly, not just when they’re playing well. I’m supposed to say all the portents clearly indicate that Man U are destined to regain the Premiership title.

To tell the truth, I don’t believe it. Much though it pains me to say it, I would still put my money on the title staying at Stamford Bridge. There is no rational reason for it, just as there was no rational reason to believe Theo Walcott (no goals up to that point) would score in the Carling Cup final (but he did). Good teams DO make their own luck, but equally things do have a way of evening themselves out … and I just have a sneaky feeling Chelsea’s karma is about to improve.

While I’m on my Irish theme, I must take the opportunity to eat a large slice of humble pie – and I suspect I’m far from alone in this – in recognising just how well managerial rookie Roy Keane is doing at Sunderland. Against all expectations, he has taken a team which was rooted to the floor of the Championship and elevated them to fourth place and within three points of the automatic promotion spots. And he has done so with a combination of the footballing intelligence we always knew he had and a calmness of manner which is almost the polar opposite of his persona as a player. Jekyll and Hyde.

No question, Keane has done brilliantly. And there is nothing lucky about that.

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