Is there such a thing or are players simply knackered at Old Trafford?

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Winners in the dying embers of matches at Old Trafford, we have all seen and experienced them. ‘Fergie time’, as it is more commonly known to conspiracy theorists, is that period of time at the end of Manchester United home games where the ‘Reds’ scored an agonising winner or the referee is contractually obliged to give United a penalty. Whether it is the aura of Old Trafford or Sir Alex, there definitely appears to be a pattern over the years.

Surely there is a more logical explanation for United’s last minute winners?

Pat Nevin at the BBC believes it is all down to the size of the pitch, and actually this makes for a pretty logical argument. Many will notice that Old Trafford is one of the larger pitches in the Premier League, containing 8504 sq foot of playing surface.

Manchester United play on this pitch regularly and their constant exposure allows them to build up the required stamina to play on a pitch this size. Playing United has been tiring enough for opposition down the years, and it comes as no surprise that by the 90th minute when teams are knackered that United pounce.

You may think that I along with Pat Nevin are over emphasising the variation in pitch sizes, but in reality the differences are quite marked. Stoke City for example have the smallest pitch at 7654 sq foot, so no wonder Rory Delap seems to lob it into the box with consummate ease. For Stoke though travelling to United, they experience a playing surface so much larger than what they are used to at the Britannia that it is unsurprising that many of them are struggling by the end of it.

Now of course United aren’t the only side with a big pitch, why are they the kings?

Aston Villa actually have the largest pitch at 8602 sq foot, and with that you would expect them to be the last minute point snatchers. The reality is that ‘Fergie time’ cannot just be attributed to pitch size; you also need the quality to expose teams in the final minutes. The likes of Ronaldo previously and now Van Persie are masters of the game when they are afforded space and time. Aston Villa may well be a decent outfit, but they do not possess this quality to expose teams so readily late on.

Penalties come about in much the same way late on. Tired defenders make rash and sloppy tackles, and invariably this leads to free kicks and penalties. United predominantly at home have the lions share of possession with opposition chasing the game, it isn’t really that surprising that by the end on any surface that defenders are on their knees. The pitch size difference just exacerbates the staggering pattern at Old Trafford.

It isn’t just United, we are starting to see a similar pattern emerge at City. The Etihad is another huge playing surface, and City are another quality footballing outfit.  The drama of the final day of the season a couple of years back may not have happened had QPR not been so fatigued from playing 90 minutes chasing the game on such a huge playing surface.

Is it fair?

Small and large pitches have their advantages in different ways. Smaller surfaces of course favour a more direct approach, with it easier to pump the ball forward and into the box. By contrast a larger pitch obviously offers more space and time, the enormity of the Nou Camp helps to breed their style of football, something they may not so easily manage at the Britannia.

UEFA in European competition place limits on how big or small a surface may be, which for me makes surprising sense. You may have noticed at the Britannia a variety of lines marked out when they played in the Europa League a couple of years back and it was for this exact reason.

‘Fergie time’ isn’t a myth, but it isn’t the shady occurrence that you might think it is. United score late goals because they tire opposition out through their football and pitch size, and then ruthlessly expose them late on through their undoubted qualities.

Does this explanation satisfy the conspiracy theorists?