Archive for December, 2002
Walking away from Upton Park a few weeks ago after United slipped up, the word on the street for United was mediocre. Poor away results, a lack of passion, a loss to Man City and an inability to score paved way for widepsread criticism.
Barthez was written off, players such as Phil Neville and Forlan described as useless, and even Fergie was told by a ‘fan’ that he should step down. The 909 callers were in their element slagging us off, those claiming to be United fans at the forefront of the abuse for our heroes.
I wonder how the more fickle and critical fans are feeling today? 9 points against 3 top teams, a clean sheet against the team who always score, favourites to win the league and a strong position in Europe make me wonder why people were so worried.
Today’s game against Arsenal was the final piece in the jigsaw in convincing Reds that our domination was NOT over, that Fergie should NOT have retired, and that bad form in November does NOT mean we are out of the title race.
Arriving at Old Trafford early this morning, I mingled with a lot of Arsenal fans who were all confident. Many had travelled without tickets and were anxious to find a way into the away entrance, although now they will be glad they did not! “We won the league at Old Trafford” they chanted as they went thorugh the turnstiles, and there was little we could say in return, because quite simply they embaressed us last season and we knew it.
Before United fans were not so confident. Despite wins against Liverpool, Basle and Newcastle this was a vital game and the hardest of the season so far. It was almost an unwritten rule that Arsenal would score, but could we match them and out-play them? The noise was ferocious as the teams came out of the tunnel, there was a real sense that this match meant a lot to everyone involved.
From the first kick United edged the game. We were first to every loose ball, climbed higher in the air and looked as if the desire and passion of old had returned. Ruud had a shot pushed away and the pressure mounted. Arsenal could have scored twice themselves, but a great save by Fabien off Henry, and an inch wide lob by Pires denied them.
Then came the opener. Veron started the move and kept moving into the box. Ruud controlled the ball (possibly with his hand) and sent it out wide to Scholsey. Scholsey looked up, saw Seba, and the Argentinian tucked it away to send us absolutely mental. We deserved it, and we made the most of it. Seba was loving the goal himself, pulling his shirt off and uprouting the corner flag!
Half time was tense. Could we keep playing on the second half and deny Arsenal a point and possibly even a goal?
The answer is yes. We played superbly and after Ruud had a header pushed onto the post we had Arsenal rattled. It seemed only a matter of time until we sealed the win, and a great bit of persistent play from Ruud let Scholes in to double the lead. Game, set and match. Arsenal did not threaten again, they looked jaded and defeated.
The final whistle went much to our relief. It was a great performance and a well earned win. Although the whole team played well, special mention goes to one player who deserves to be written about. Phil Neville has his fair share of critics both at United and in the wider world of football. People are quick to write him off as a player carried by those around him, and always on hand to point out his past errors namely for England. Yet today showed the real Phil Neville, the one the real United fans know exists. He was our star; not carried by anyone else he marked Viera out the game and made numerous superb interventions. He covered every blade of grass and earnt the respect of every person in the country watching the game. Phil is a loyal player, United through and through, who has always given his all for the cause. Today he made his mark and earned the credit he has long been overdue.
Three points, a miraculous clean sheet, and a message to the rest of the league that United are back. I know that we never went away, but for the morons who were quick to dismiss us there is humble pie to swallow.
Look at Leeds, Liverpool and City collapsing around us as we grow stronger and stronger. With the Wizard at our helm and the likes of Rio, Becks, Butt and Keano to return I fancy our chances.
If there is one game we needed and wanted to win it was this one. After five consecutive defeats to the shell suit wearing granny stabbers, every Red was up for this game. The rivalry aside, the points were vital to keep the pressure up on Arsenal and show the world we are not ready to cast aside a decade of domination.
The journey up was easy, although getting up at 6 am doesn’t suit me too well. Knowing the Scouse love for hubcap stealing is not just a malicious rumour, we parked in a secure car park and went to the ground.
After mingling with a few familiar faces the atmosphere outside was getting a bit heated and we made our way inside all too aware of the high police presence. Everyone was desperate to lay into each other, but all the aggression had to be saved for the stands.
Early kick offs destroy the atmosphere, especially when the police had closed all the pubs too. And so the former fortress of Anfield became a pathetic, quiet, morgue as their halfhearted version of You’ll Never Walk Alone drifted through the air. After the American style team huddle by the Scousers the game started, and our team had a rather make shift appearance.
Confidence was not too high. After recent years we know full well that in these games current form and ability plays no part: anything can happen. And with Becks, Veron, Butt, Keane, Rio and Blanc missing it was no wonder there were doubts.
United took control of the game quickly. Their passing and possession was far superior to Liverpool’s, and Ole had a goal disallowed after 6 minutes that may well have stood on another day. As the half United looked at ease and it became a matter of when, and not if, we would score. I hate complacency and was terrified that we almost looked TOO comfortable, it didn’t feel right, and when the half time whistle went I was a bit surprised how easy it had been. Special mention must go to superb Gary Neville. I do not think that one person watching this game could deny his rightful place as the England right back; he was truly world class.
I was convinced we would be punished for not scoring despite our domination of the first half. I fully expected Liverpool to come out stronger and more determined, but they did not. Instead the half carried on where the first had left off, with United players silencing the home fans. All we needed now was a goal.
I have a lot of respect for Dudek. He is a reliable, consistent goalkeeper of the highest quality, and one who is usually very hard to beat. Yet today he was a United fan, and decided to give the ball to Diego to help him boost his confidence with a goal. We all owe Jerzy a big thank you and a round of applause for handing us the game on a plate. Shame.
“Are you David James in disguise?”
“Jerzy Dudek is a red, he hates Scousers”
The United end went mental, as crazy and delirious as I have ever seen. The home fans stood shattered, we baited them again and again. Random objects flew over from the bitter Scouser’s end but we didn’t care. This was our day and nothing they could do would ruin it.
Two minutes later a rather quiet and anonymous Giggs finally made an impression on the game. He slipped the ball wide to Diego on the edge of the area. Diego, high in confidence from endless months of Reds standing by him, and still high from his goal, blasted it past Dudek to double the lead.
Mad scenes ensued. Bitter stewards manhandled our celebrating players, and threw punches in at our fans up in the stand. But yet again we didn’t care, this was our day. We sang louder and harder than before, we wanted every single one of those poor thieving bastards to have to remember this day for a long time.
The rest of the match is all pretty irrelevant. They got a goal back but Barthez made the save of the season to answer his critics (again) and give us victory. Scenes after the final whistle were a bit nasty, but overall it was all good fun. Gary Neville made the day complete when we walked over to the away fans and made a few gestures to send us into mad celebrations. He really does hate the Scousers as much as us!
The Red army was kept in the ground for half an hour after the game. We watched their fans cry in their seats, each tear triggering off another song.
“Feed the Scousers, let them know its Christmas time”
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to see United win away.”
“You’re going home in a stolen ambulance”
“You’re not famous anymore”
Three points are three points, and there is no use getting carried away. This is a vital win, but it has to be kept in perspective. However, after having been written off and ridiculed by their supporters it was great to get one over them. Their 12-year wait for the championship is far from over, it could well be 12 more years at this rate!
Oh when will they learn medals aren’t given out in November!
And as for United, this announces us back in the race. If this is a crisis, there really is not too much to worry about. Remember the injuries and the players yet to come back; we are in a superb position now.
As for Alex Ferguson, full respect. He stuck by Forlan, Barthez and Gary Neville who were instrumental in our victory today. Every Red who slated these players ought to be ashamed.
If today doesn’t excite you, then give up football, as this is as good as it gets. As we left the ground, an old United classic filled the air; “Always look on the bright side of life.” And this week I certainly will.