Archive for September, 2002
United did not play at their best yesterday, but fought their way back from behind to claim all three points at the Valley. The key to winning the Premiership is to grind out results when you are not on top form, and that is exactly what Fergie’s side did.
I always like London games, for the simple reason that it involves less travel for me. Charlton is an easy place to go; their fans are not especially hostile and you are treated with respect. Reds walked around in United shirts outside without trouble, and we sang in the sunshine outside the ground.
The away stand is old and battered, made from rusty corrigated iron. Apart from the pillar the view is actually quite good, and the noise echoing made the atmosphere from the away fans very impressive.
On the pitch United did not start off so impressively. Forlan looked out of place on the right wing and Beckham’s central role did not quite make its mark. Jason Euell almost scored for Charlton after only a minute, but shot wide, and Bartlett was denied by a good Barthez save. Scholes, returning from injury, was vital for United and had a shot cleared off the line, a Becks free kick also went close.
Minutes before half time Jensen was played in with only Rio and Fabien to beat. Rio couldnt block the shot and it curled into the top corner of the net beyond Barthez’s outstretched hands. When the half time whistle blew United trailed and were playing badly.
It was exactly a year since one of United’s greatest comebacks at Spurs, when after trailing 3-0 United went on to win 5-3. Again on a September weekend in London United now had to turn a deficit around.
The team came out for the second half and within minutes the electrifying Ryan Giggs made a powerful direct run before picking out Scholes in the area who slotted home the equaliser. From that point on there was only ever going to be one winner. Ruud came off the bench to replace Diego, and the game swung even more in United’s favour. A Giggs header from a pinpointed O’Shea cross was inches wide, and minutes later Giggs again was close to scoring when his acute shot was pushed wide for a corner.
The travelling Reds were loud all afternoon, with all of the usual songs being belted out. Two new songs also had an airing:
“This is how it feels to be City, This is how it feels to be small, This is how it feels to see your team win nothing at all”. The other was a John O’Shea tribute, sung to the Beatles’ Yesterday.
All my troubles seemed to be here to stay,
Now I know that they’ve gone away,
Oh I believe in John O’Shea.”
Just as the game began to fade and the United contingent questioned whether there would be a winner, Ruud was played in on goal. His powerful run took him to the edge of the area where he squared to Giggsy. The Welshman seemed to take an age to despatch the ball into the net, but eventually he sent the Red army mad. Mintues later Giggs returned the favour to Ruud, finding him alone at the far post where he headed home the sealing goal.
3-1, and a great day out for the away fans. Scholes was back, as was Ruud, and the first away win of the season was greeted with delight. Four wins in a row is far from a crisis, but United remain six points below Arsenal.
In days of old, two wins in a week were simply expected, nowadays they are a little more appreciated. Already 6 points behind Arsenal, the Reds had to win today to keep up the pressure on the leaders, and they did so fairly comfortably.
The journey up to Manchester was awful. With train strikes; away support from London; roadworks; students returning to university; and Liverpool also playing at home, the traffic was extremely heavy.
Almost six hours after leaving home we made it to the seats for kick-off with literally a minute to spare.
United started brightly; Spurs could not keep possession of the ball and our passing motion was fast and furious. Despite the lack of clear chances created, United piled a fair amount of pressure on the Tottenham goal. At half-time the score was only level due to fine saves of Ole from Kasey Keller.
The second half started where the first left off, and crowd really got going. The new favourite, “I see the Stretford End arising,” was echoed over and over by Tier 2 who were all standing by this point. The volume emanating from the United faithful silenced the away fans, and a few dubious decisions from the ref raised the noise to another level.
A definite United penalty was turned down by the ref, and Keller made some absolutely superb saves, matched only by a Barthez save at the other end. United looked closer to scoring, and eventually the penalty came. Ruud stepped up and hit it home to send the crowd wild. From that moment the game was won and Spurs could hardly threaten an equalising goal.
A good performance, although there is still room for improvement. O’Shea yet again had a solid game at centre back, and Becks ran continuously for 90 minutes. Veron was, unfortunately, his usual inconsistent self, yet Nicky Butt more than made up for him with some excellent movement in midfield.
Fortunately the journey home was easier than the way up had been, with many Spurs fans to jeer at each service station. Three points, a clean sheet, the return of Gary Neville as second half sub, and a great atmosphere in the stands. Bring on the Germans.
In many ways this season has carried on from the last one; dodgy results in the league alongside high scoring European nights. This performance was solid and clinical, with many players out to proove a point.
Haifa must be given some praise, however. Their support was as good as any that we had seen, with over 5000 travelling over from Israel. The noise and colour eminating from the away end was a credit to the travelling fans. On the pitch, their players were fast and dangerous coming fowards, and they came to play good football, not just to defend.
Haifa took the lead with a great team goal, although Rio’s positioning must be questioned. It was a wake up call to United, who took only minutes to equalise thanks to a glancing header from Giggsy. Ryan has been the subject of a fair bit of criticism from supporters and fazines in recent weeks, but his performance last night will have silenced many critics. His running, energy, enthusiasm and tackling bewildered the Israelis, and cut them apart many times.
From the moment United got back level there was only ever going to be one winner. It was only a matter of time before United took the lead, and Ole superbly finished off a move in which Ruud’s perceptive vision deserves much credit. The Israeli fans were silenced, and the Stretford End came to life once more. At half time United fully deserved their lead, with special praise reserved for Giggsy and John O’Shea.
After singing throughout half time in the concourses, we made our way back to the seats for the second half. No sooner had we settled down than Veron had added his name ot the scoresheet. It took only 25 seconds of the second half for the Argentine to smash home United’s third, and it will help to raise his confidence after a year of criticism.
By now the result had been settled. United looked in no danger of throwing away a two goal lead, and the match became about giving certain players confidence. First on the list was Ruud, who needed a goal to raise his game. He became the focus of every attck and it was not long before Veron’s excellent long pass came to him, and he slotted home. Immediately Giggs was taken off and Forlan came on, desperate for he first goal in red.
Despite looking lively he was unable to take his chances; one sailed over the bar whilst the keeper held the other. It was Haifa who were next to score, Rio’s error again allowing sub Cohen to give the travelling fans reason to celebrate.
At 4-2 with one minute left to play Becks was fouled, and the ref pointed to the penalty spot. With the dame sewn up the Stretford End called for Diego to take it, with the song “We all know that Diego’s going to score” echoing from the stands. He took a short run up and slotted it right into the corner sending Old Trafford wild.
With seven goals scored this game can only be described as entertaining. And with Veron, Ruud and Diego scoring, confidence must have been boosted. Credit to Haifa for their determination and support, but they never looked up to denying United victory. As we left the ground a rendition of “Are you watching Merseyside?” sent a little reminder that Liverpool had failed to win the night before. Now United must take this form back into the league and get a result against Spurs.
This match was built up by the press and by supporters as Rio’s return to Elland Road. Yet his return was no more than small detail in a very eventful day, and will not be the focus of headline writers. For the record, Rio was booed half heartedly and had a comfortable performance, and quietly went about doing his job.
The day started bright and early due to the kick off time, and it was a quick journey up the M1 to Leeds. As always at Elland Road, the United contingent kept as anonymous as possible outside the ground, with not a red shirt in sight. The Leeds fans had a field day spending their hard earned (or often stolen) cash on anti-Rio and anti-Keane T shirts and banners; very sad. In fact, Far Eastern tourists in the United end had bought these Keane T shirts obviously oblivious to their meanings.
The atmosphere was suprisingly lacking in hostility to the extent that United fans chanted, “where’s your hostile atmosphere?” United totally dominated the first half and deserved to go in with a lead, yet as with games gone by chances were not put away.
The second half was a very different game, probably due to the removal of Nicky Butt with an injury. With Phil Neville and Luke Chadwick in midfield the team lacked strength, and Leeds took control as the game went on. They took their one chance of the match to score, and United became progressively worse as it went on. Leeds celebrated as if they had won the world cup, and most went home happy.
Usually United fans are held in after games at Leeds for at least 40 minutes, and are only allowed out when the home fans have cleared. However, reds managed to break through police lines which lead to United all leaving within ten minutes of the whistle. Leaving the stadium, pitched battles began with Leeds and the police. Hundreds injured as bottles, bricks and fists flew in all directions. Bad policing, stupidity from both sets of fans, and a sour note to a sour result.
Ultimately it was a bad day to be a red. Beaten by our rivals, trouble outside thre ground, another key midfield injury, Beckham alledgedly elbowing Bowyer, Barthez kicking a bottle at Leeds fans, and the United tem bus being attacked. Add to this important wins for Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, and you will see why today is best forgotten.
United are still yet to concede a point or a goal at Old Trafford this season. Ok ok, there have only been four games including friendlies so far, but the record still stands.
The teams walked out the tunnel to roars of support for the absent Roy Keane. No matter what you may think of his actions in recent weeks, the fact remains that he is vital to the club, and it is up to us as reds to support him all the way. Throughout the game his name echoed around the stadium, and the Stretford End banner read, “Roy Keane- adored in Manchester.”
This result itself was less than convincing. Before Ruud’s penalty after 23 minutes, United failed to create a decent attempt on goal, and already the worry was kicking in. Yet in front of an expectant Old Trafford crowd Ruud gave United the lead by doing enough to win a penalty and then convert it himself. At the time I didnt think it was a penalty, but with the knowledge of replays, there was infact a tug on the Dutchman’s shirt that affected his balance.
For the rest of the half United kept possession but rarely troubled the Boro defence. Two shots, both from Giggsy, were United’s best efforts, but were both agonisingly wide. Boro were simply boring. Their fans, not the most vocal of supporters, didnt even bother to turn out in support of their team, leaving empty blocks of seats in the away section. Their players were just as unlikely to win entertainment awards, acting as a well organised defensive unit but failing to create neither a chance nor a moment of excitement.
The end of the half saw an old song rekindled. For the last eight months or so it has been going in the pubs and a little at away games, but this was the night it really caught on…
I see the Stretford End arising,
I see there’s trouble on the way,
So dont go out tonight,
Unless you’re red and white,
I see there’s trouble on the way.
Very catchy, very intimidating and now very popular. The song continued in the concourse of the Strettie for the duration on half time and then emerged again during the second half.
The second half lacked attempts on goal, excitement, and entertainment. United kept the ball and were rarely troubled, yet failed to break down Boro’s ten man defence. Towards the end there was tension, as merories returned of conceding the lead to Sunderland at the weekend, and also of those many points dropped at home last season. Fortunately United did not through the points away and the game ended with sighs of relief.
A special mention must go to Rio. In his first league match at Old Trafford he was easily the best player on the pitch. He made tricky interceptions, tackles and passes look easy, and never looked uneasy.
Again it is a tale of expectation at Old Trafford. A win and a clean sheet should please the crowd, yet due to the lack of entertainment and the tension at the end most were not satisfied. The expectation only stems from previous glories, and in that respect it ought to be a compliment to the team that so much is demanded of them, yet when it does not all go to plan we must not lose faith.
Now let us get well rested over the weekend and prepare for Bolton next wednesday. I will not be writing a report as I will be in New York, and on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks I won’t be watching the game there.