Ryan Giggs has witnessed emotional highs and lows during his 19 years at Manchester United. His distinguished career may boast 23 major prizes, including 11 Premier League winner's medals, but Giggs has also experienced the pain of failure. None more so than from 2004 to 2007 when United faltered in their pursuit of the biggest prizes at home and in Europe.
It was a chastening experience for the winger that made him determined to respond. "It's what makes you a Man United player," he said. As they prepare to face Blackburn Rovers today, Giggs hopes his teammates will follow suit after a week in which United face the harsh reality of missing out on their top targets again. Their grip on the Premier League title was loosened last weekend after the defeat to Chelsea.
That was swiftly followed by a Champions League exit in the quarter-finals at the hands of Bayern Munich. United won a pulsating tie 3-2, but the 50th-minute dismissal of Rafael and a superb volley by Arjen Robben put the Germans through on the away goals rule. Giggs, 36, said the outcome would leave a lasting impression on the players, but push them to achieve more success. "When I was younger, I had loads of disappointments," he said.
"I had a lot of success, too, but it can help you in the long run when things like this happen. "There were so many young players out on the pitch. It will be an experience they won't want to repeat. That's the way you have to look at it. "You remember these nights and don't want to feel like this again. "You have to take knocks in your career, but the important thing is how you come back from them. You have to try to do something about it and try to improve."
United have to regroup and recover quickly. They need to win at Blackburn to overturn Chelsea's two-point lead at the top. That will be no easy task as Carlo Ancelotti's side found out themselves last month and dropped two points in a 1-1 draw. Ewood Park has become a place where Blackburn have shown fortitude, losing just three league games there since December 2008. United's last defeat there came back in 2006 when they finished runners-up to Chelsea. But Giggs said: "I think we can still rescue the season. We have five league games left and we just have to win them all. It's as simple as that. "It won't be easy, but that's what we have to do. Hopefully Chelsea will slip up." Despite the fact they cannot afford to drop any points, Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, is still likely to freshen up his side for the trip to Blackburn. That could mean starts for stalwarts such as Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville after being on the bench against Bayern.
Dimitar Berbatov is expected to be entrusted with the lead striking role that he did not get against Bayern. Wayne Rooney's ankle injury will leave him sidelined and the Bulgarian will have a point to prove. Giggs, though, felt the team performance on Wednesday, led by the impressive Nani and Antonio Valencia on the wings, deserved greater reward. "Even though we are disappointed to lose, there were so many positives to take out of the Bayern game," added Giggs. "There were so many great performances. The first half was some of the best football we had played all season. "The goal that put us out was an unbelievable goal. It's hard to take, but that's what Europe can do to you." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
West Ham's battle to beat the drop gathered momentum yesterday as the relegation-threatened Hammers secured a 1-0 success against Sunderland at Upton Park. Ilan, the Brazilian striker signed in January from St Etienne, is fast emerging as West Ham's unlikely saviour after the 29-year-old followed up his equaliser against Everton last weekend with the only goal against Sunderland as West Ham edged four points clear of the relegation zone. Ilan was promoted into the starting XI and he made the telling contribution after 51 minutes when he latched onto Carlton Cole's downward header to earn West Ham their first win at in eight games. Sunderland should have taken the lead when West Ham's Manuel da Costa failed to deal with Steed Malbranque's inswinging delivery but Frazier Campbell could not latch onto the loose ball as it ran across the six yard box and the Hammers survived. There was drama right to the death. In the fourth minute of added time, Guillermo Franco, the West Ham striker, had the ball in the net and wheeled away to celebrate. But the Mexican was judged to have controlled the ball with his left hand and the goal was disallowed. Man of the match: Carlton Cole (West Ham)
Graham Alexander's double success from the penalty spot breathed new life into Burnley's hopes of rescuing their Premier League status yesterday. The players provided the perfect response to their 6-1 mauling last weekend at the hands of Manchester City to come from a goal down to beat Hull City 4-1 at the KC Stadium, moving them level on points with the Tigers. On the day Portsmouth were relegated following West Ham's win over Sunderland, Burnley looked like following them out of the top flight when Kevin Kilbane headed Hull into a third-minute lead. However, the Clarets showed terrific fighting spirit and fully deserved their 35th minute equaliser from Martin Paterson, who finished of Tyrone Mear's cross from the edge of the six-yard box. Alexander put Burnley ahead on 64 minutes as he tucked away his first spot-kick following Ibrahim Sonko and George Boateng's combined foul on Michael Duff in the box before netting his second six minutes later after David Nugent was brought down by Bernard Mendy. Wade Elliott compounded their misery with an expertly-taken inswinging free-kick which flew past Boaz Myhill and into the top corner in stoppage time. Man of the match: Graham Alexander (Burnley)