United Wipe The Floor With Ajax – Manchester 16th of February 2012

Against the bookies’ odds, but of no great surprise to me and needing only a draw to progress, United lost to Basle in early December to leave themselves playing in Europe’s secondary cup competition for the first time since the late summer of 1995. That season Rotor Volgograd knocked United out on away goals. There was a lot of disappointment when United were knocked out of the Champions League. While I wasn’t too happy about it, I was hardly distraught about the Reds being knocked out of a competition which looking at it realistically, United didn’t have a prayer of winning. Couple all that with the fact that United have never won the UEFA Cup/Europa League, my attitude is what the hell, there’s always next year (providing the Cristiano Ronaldo money gets spent this summer…)

There have been many friendly matches between United and Ajax but tonight is the first time the clubs have met competitively since 1976. When the draw was first made in the middle of December, my mobile phone was agog with incoming text messages, all basically saying the same thing,”What a draw, are you having it ?” Having been to Amsterdam several times, a couple of them involving United, I initially was going, come hell or high water. It’s only an hour flight from Ringway Airport to Schipol but, as is the way, flight prices suddenly went through the roof and United were only allocated 2000 (approx) tickets for the match. When I was younger, it wouldn’t have been a problem, I would have gone, ticket or no ticket confident in the knowledge that a jib would have been done easily enough, especially in Holland where, in days of yore, security was famously slack. Nowadays, I want the guarantee of entry to the game before spending at least £250.00 on a flight and going through all the rigmarole and expense of arranging digs. One thing I do know, anybody who didn’t get into the match, should be having a rare old time in Amsterdam tonight, smoking hand rolled cigarettes unique to the Netherlands, possibly enjoying the very gracious hospitalty and welcome that the some ladies in Amsterdam are world famous for providing.

United fans outside The Old Sailor on the Ouderzijds Achterburgwal

Ajax are a true giant of European football. Tonight, United were (correctly as it turned out) hot favourites to beat Ajax. All the British and Dutch media were predicting a comfortable victory for United with recent form in mind. I’ve too much respect for Ajax as a football club to take any victory against them as a given, no matter how poor their recent form is. We’ve all seen poor teams beat United. With Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool, I’ve seen two mediocre sides beat United since Christmas so I wasn’t taking anything for granted tonight. A 2-0 win, on paper looks like a comfortable win but Ajax, in the first half at least, gave United a scare or two, most memorably on 30minutes when David De Gea made another top class save, to prevent Siem De Jong from scoring.

Ryan Giggs, much to the chagrin of the British media, who’d been writing commemorative pieces for his expected 900th appearance for United tonight, the United fans who’d been singing Giggs is going to Amsterdam (to the tune of Love Will Tear Us Apart) since the draw had been made and to the possible relief of his wife, didn’t travel with the United squad for this game. United could have used Giggs well tonight, particularly in the first half when Nani was having one of those nights, Nani’s corner on six minutes, which went straight out for a goal kick, being spectacularly poor even by his standards.

The second half kicked off with Ajax fans singing Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds at impressive volume. The atmosphere provided tonight by the Ajax fans was fantastic (at least it sounded so on the telly). As much for the noise as Ajax fans made, United started to get a grip on the game and after some sustained pressure, Ashley Young turned the Ajax defence inside out and back in again before putting the ball through Ajax goalkeeper, Kenneth Vermeer’s legs to put United 1-0 up on 59 minutes. The United goal flattened Ajax. After that, despite only being a goal behind, United were in complete control of the game. Ajax were mostly trying shots from distance, whenever they managed to get in the United half. On 86 minutes, United counter attacked again when Antonio Valencia pulled his hamstring winning the ball in midfield before feeding Wayne Rooney on the left flank. Rooney placed a perfect low cross for the oncoming Javier Hernandez to slide ball home for United.

“Thursday night, Channel 5” has been the ever-so-cutting chant from oposition fans since United were knocked out of the Champions League in December; most of the people who’ve been doing this chanting only get a taste of European/continental football when they’re watching England getting inevitably knocked out of tournaments every couple of years. I’ll forgive them, they know no better. The “Thursday night…” chants reached a nadir at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago when fans of Stoke City were singing it at United fans. This is the same Stoke City who played tonight, this Thursday night, and lost at home to Valencia.

Some things never change, the standard of inane commentary of football matches in this country, no matter what channel it’s on is always the same. My favourite commentary passage tonight came on 35 minutes when the Channel 5 commentator see’s the camera zoom in on Sir Alex Ferguson and asks’ co-commentator Graham Taylor, if he’s sat in the same spot as he was for the Holland/England match in 1993. Graham Taylor wasn’t sure but did say that he was walking on the spot, just outside the penalty area where Ronald Koeman fouled David Platt in the same match prior to tonights match kicking off. What nobody pointed out was that the infamous Holland/England match in 1993 took place in Rotterdam.

 

Thanks to Rick Kelly of  www.rkellyphoto.com  for the lend of his equipment and his help to me in typing this blog