Archive for September, 2006
Returning home from Lisbon last December was no fun. The taxi driver taking us back to the airport had his car decked out in a full Benfica kit and gloated as he looked over at the headlines staring up from the passenger seat. That trip saw United dumped out of Europe and the scene of George Best’s greatest performance replaced with memories of failure and embarrassment. For those of us there in Lisbon that night, this game was all about revenge. Three years without a European away victory playing against a team we have a grudge against; bring it on.
The day itself was long, but enjoyable. A 6am start at Manchester airport is never fun, but Lisbon was sunny and full of Reds as the day progressed. The squares filled up with Reds who mixed with the local supporters and joined up with Sporting Lisbon fans to mock Benfica. It was all good natured with Reds shaking hands with all who approached, and other tourists looking bemused. The buses came back to collect us for the match at 6pm and our support was well up for it.
United seemed to have other ideas. They came out on to the pitch sluggishly, could not string two passes together, looked fairly vulnerable at the back and had the away fans groaning. Many must have been wishing they had stayed in the Lisbon squares basking in the sun and enjoying the constant offers of cheap drugs, fake sunglasses and the odd dodgy watch. However, when Saha popped up in the second half to strike the eventual winner, the whole trip was worth it. Suddenly the good football flowed and chances came as the home team pushed forwards leaving gaps at the back. Only a bad miss by Saha and an incredible triple save from their keeper kept the score down to one.
The game ended and United had won away in Europe at last. Many of us would like to think that the players did this for George Best, as an apology for the match that was supposed to be played in his name last year. It was not a great performance at all but ultimately we created more chances than the opposition and looked steady after going a goal up. The more worrying aspects were the terrible performances by Carrick and Rooney; both need a good run to get back to form. The more welcoming factors were the steady game played by Heinze, and the return to the pitch of Alan Smith.
After the game things passed peacefully. Credit must go to the Benfica fans who all seemed to applaud us on leaving the stadium and wave off our coaches pleasantly. Unlike our friends in Oporto, the police were also fantastic and behaved 100%. We made our way back to the airport and made it to Manchester for 3am – a 21 hour trip well worth it.
And so United got what they deserved. After several weeks of scraping wins and kidding many that all was well at Team Glazer, United finally cam unstuck. United looked out of sorts against a confident Arsenal side and eventually came unstuck. Despite several great chances, including a powerful volley from Ronaldo and a great header from Saha, this was a poor performance. The result was fair, but this made it no less amusing nor tolerable for Reds, especially those of us having to share service stations afterwards with their supporters.
It is hard to find silver linings in this game. On the pitch there were two major issues. Firstly, players who did not have the ability nor the passion. Whilst credit must go the likes of Darren Fletcher, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes who tried their best, others did not seem interested. John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Rooney did not only play badly, but their body language looked all wrong. Rooney has an excuse as he is perhaps not match fit, the rest do not. Secondly, the selection and tactics set us up for a fall. The mind baffles why O’Shea started ahead of Carrick. Others are questioning why Ronaldo was playing on the wrong side, when Richardson may have played left instead of Fletcher right. I do not necessarily agree with this as Richardson could easily have had a worse game than Fletcher did, and Ronaldo could have been just as ineffective. As it happens, Ronaldo still had two of our best strikes on goal, one of which still cheered up the crowd no-end when it smashed Lehman in the face. It was also strange to see Scholes substituted when he was our outstanding player, to make way for Carrick who should already have been playing.
Off the pitch the game was also embarrassing. Never before have I seen United outsung by Arsenal, and this was the case throughout, even with the scores level. Their atmospheres have been dismal this season yet they still came to our ground and performed. Fergsuon proved right I guess, not that his bosses’ decisions help. Execs seats across the Strettie, new quadrants filled with suits, the hardcore shoved up in Tier 2, loads of others priced out totally and more of the same to come in the future. And then THEY moan about the atmosphere and people leaving for FC. Dear oh dear.
All in all, a bad day out. The league tables still looks good but confidence will have taken a real blow and the next few fixtures may be tricky.
United went to Reading expecting to win. Despite their very good home record United would not have felt threatened by the Premiership new-boys, and probably had a bit of a shock. Reading are a good team. Not good enough to take points off us, but good enough to with us not being at full strength and not performing to full capability. United had enough chances to win the match but ultimately the performance was not remotely satisfactory.
Going to a new stadium is always more exciting than just another trip to the same old places year after year. However, Reading might as well have been Boro, Sunderland, Derby, Southampton, Leicester or any other generic new stadium. Four stands, one tier, built near a motorway in fields with nothing else about, fans full of replica shirts, PA announcer getting far too excited, music when they score a goal and small time supporters.
Anyway, back to the match itself, as the atmosphere from our support was not that great and the home support bored us with the same old ‘we support our local team’ and booing Ronaldo nonsense. Ronaldo, incidentally, was superb. His powerful free kick, mazy runs, sense of urgency, tricks that came off and low wipped in balls across the box provided United’s greatest threat. Every time he was booed he looked better, and the United fans gave him the usual defensive reaction, cheering him on and winding up the home Ingerlund fans with Portugal chants.
A special mention must go to Darren Fletcher, so often the recipient of unwarranted abuse. He ran his heart out today and made a tackle in the first half in the opposition box that was simply sensational. He worked tirelessly all day doing a role that went unnoticed but was of huge importance. Other players did not perform so well though, his midfield partner Michael Carrick being one of them.
The second half started badly. A penalty given to Reading a minute from kick off, for alleged handball by Gary Neville in the box. It was never intentional and his arm was by his side; a crazy decision. Doyle, a boyhood United fan, stepped up and just squeezed the ball in. Lucky lucky lucky.
United suddenly woke up. It is almost comical and disgraceful that it takes going a goal down to add some urgency and fight. Almost at will United were spurred into action and it only took a few moments between Richardson missed an absolute sitter. Fortunately ego boy was taken off straight after. The only saving grace of Richardon’s miss was that Rooney made it. It signalled a change to the boy wonder and gave him confidence to take men on and produce chances again. He was fantastic for the last 25 minutes and played a role in the Scholes deflected shot that somehow did not go in. Ronaldo again played a great role is this chance too with his sheer persistence.
Finally the equaliser came; a solo effort from, of course, Ronaldo. For the remaining period of the game United camped in the opposition box, but no goal came. Reading will look back at a game in which they had no efforts on goal and only scored from a dubious penalty. United can look back at missed chances, the return to form of Rooney and the fitness of Heinze and Vidic. However, on a day when all United’s rivals and title challengers won, this was just not good enough.
This game was the second of three home matches in a week; a lot of travelling for us Southeners. We went up to Old Trafford fully expected an easy victory, knowing that behind the Battle of Britain hype Celtic are just a poor Scottish side. Predictions ranged from 2-0 to 4-1, but never did any of us think the victory would be in doubt. In some ways our thoughts were justified as United won the game and had so many chances over the 90 minutes, yet on the other hand Celtic will have reason to feel hard done by. They gave United problems from start to finish, put our defence under serious pressure, and generally made a nuisance of themselves. They should have gone back to Glasgow with their heads held high.
Also making nuisances of themselves were the Celtic supporters. United gave them 6000 tickets but it is estimated that over 20,000 travelled down and spent a day being boisterous in the city centre. Fights reportedly broke out constantly through the day and it was kicking off around the ground before kick off too. Stupidly, thousands of Celtics fans decided to wear green and white in the home sections. More stupidly the stewards let them in. Most stupidly at all, they cheered and mocked us when they took the lead. Unsurprisingly CCTV was not enough of a deterrent to stop many Reds seeking revenge. Many of the Celtic fans deserved what they got, but many others were unfortunate and were only trying to watch their team play football with no interest in trouble. Ticketing policy let everyone down again.
In any case, the mood was lightened when United equalized minutes later. A dodgy penalty was awarded, Saha converted, and the Celtic fans who apparently are the best supporters in the world (alongside City, Geordies and Portsmouth – massive supporters every one of them!), fell deadly silent. It was not long before United took the lead and, despite a stunning free kick to level the scores again, United went on to win the game. Ole deserved his goal at the Stretford End, he will always be our hero and to see him net there once again was magical. Especially apt that it turned out to be the winning goal (almost as if we missed so many other chances intentionally!). Celtic fought hard but ultimately they did not create clear chances and United did. The 3 points were deserved, however cheap the penalty award.
This was a cracking game of fast flowing, attacking football. The atmosphere was superb, the players responded, and the return match at Parkhead will now be even more hyped. United’s winning run continues, bring on Arsenal.
Last season was frustrating for all Reds. Firstly this was caused by our own failings, namely inconsistency, dropping points against weak teams and playing long balls over the top. Secondly, it was excruciating to see Chelsea sneak all 3 points nearly every week often undeserved, often against the run of play and often with negative tactics in which they took the league then held on until the final whistle. However, it is those tactics that ultimately won Chelsea the title and so, when United applied the same methods against Spurs yesterday, we should understand. Many Reds have complained about the poor performance against the North London side, and rightly so as it was fairly dire to watch, but it should also be remembered that we took the points with a clean sheet and Van der Saar was rarely called on throughout.
In the games against Fulham and Charlton United had heroes all over the pitch. Yesterday, however, there were few who stood out. Rio made a whole host of mistakes at the back, Richardson tried to beat men on the wing at every opportunity and could not, and Saha was far from sharp and missed some good chances. Only the rejuvenated Ryan Giggs really shone, with Wes Brown, Van der Saar and Ronaldo also putting in useful performances. As for Spurs, they should feel disappointed at this result. United had few chances and Spurs had a lot of possession, but they failed to covert several free headers and did not punish United’s defensive errors. Spurs have a good record at Old Trafford in the last few years and this was a good chance for them to continue it.
So, on the plus side, United have maximum points, a good goal differences, are watching the rivals stutter every week and have Rooney and Scholes to return. However, on the down side, we have put in two bad performances, there is a shocking atmosphere despite the increased capacity, and we have a squad lacking in depth as the season continues. It is very early days and so we will need to watch this space.