Little Pea Pop’s Up On The Camouflaged Goalkeeper At The School Of Science – Liverpool, 29th Of October 2011

Difficult match in store today, Everton are not a good team and it’s been a good while since they’ve had a good team but like any team managed by David Moyes, they’re hard to beat. United started the game with plenty of possession but also play with the nervous hesitancy of a team that have recently been clobbered. In the first half, Everton occasionally go forward but even with Louis Saha, there’s no potency or feeling of danger in their attack. To my surprise, Alex Ferguson started with Jonny Evans. My surprise was twofold, one that he wasn’t suspended after last weeks sending off and secondly after his poor performance last week, he was picked for a pretty tricky away game, so soon after. Evans, whilst not my favorite defender, didn’t do much wrong today.

Javier Hernandez scored on nineteen minutes after a good cross by the recently maligned Patrice Evra to put United deservedly in the league in front of the Gwladys Street End. Rooneys presence in the penalty area distracted two Everton defenders leaving Hernandez free. United applied plenty of pressure, Rooney’s attempt at a shot from eighteen yards was scuppered by referee Mark Halsey accidently getting in his way. I also notice that Danny Welbeck has today got a leaden first touch. The only significant threat from Everton today came from a Leighton Baines free kick, just before half time which hit the bar with David De Gea a spectator.

Today’s win was more than welcome, a traditionally hard place to go to, United have ground out what could be a crucial win. The atmosphere from Everton fans was of their usual languor. Whilst I don’t doubt their passion or fervour, Everton fans, to my eyes, have got the most laid back supporters I’ve ever come across. I sometimes think that most of them have come to the ground in a car filled with vapour from exotic hand rolled cigarettes and listening to Pink Floyd or Massive Attack en route.

The linesman went down injured in front of the Park End on eighty nine minutes. To me it looked like a back injury and it took fouth official, Phil Dowd a couple of minutes to get ready to come on. Due to the linesmans’ injury, substitutions and other sundry stoppages, there was six minutes injury time allocated. In the second minute of injury time, Rooney picked up cramp which adds another unwelcome minute to the stoppage time. With there being a total of seven minutes’ injury time played whilst United are stoutly defending a one goal lead, the usual moaning of excessive injury time in a United game is strangely muted today

Shall We Fill Your Ground For You ? Manchester, 25th of October, 2011

After the cakewalk against minnows, Leeds United in the last round of this competition, United are drawn against more respectable opposition in this round, Aldershot Town from league 2 (in old money, division 4). Tonight, the match programme is a snip at £5.00 but to be fair to Aldershot, they’ve only charged £17.00 for the tickets when they could have charged a lot more. What I really like about it is that the Aldershot fans have had to buy their United tickets in tandem with their home match against Burton Albion the following Tuesday which it appears, is how Aldershot have cashed in on tonights match instead of extorting money out of visiting United fans. It should be no problem at all for these grass roots, salt of the earth local and loyal supporters to attend next weeks game. Surely Aldershots’ average crowd hasn’t just nearly quadrupled for the visit of United, has it?

Watching the match on TV, Martin Tyler and my perennial favourite commentating sidekick, Alan Smith are sharing their wisdom with us tonight and boy, where would we be without their knowledge ? After the subs’ appearance of Ravel Morrison, Martin Tyler does the work of the tabloid press for them by telling us that Ravel Morrison has plenty of “baggage” off the pitch in his personal life. Whilst it’s true that Morrison lives, hopefully now lived, a colourful life off the pitch, did it really need mentioning live on TV less than a minute into his senior debut ? Morrison, a lad of eighteen, may not (supposedly) behave like a boy scout, but hopefully he’ll learn without causing or receiving too much pain. What he dosen’t need is some clown like Tyler giving the watching masses, most who’d probably never heard of him, a negative first impression of him. As for Alan Smith, I’m developing a dislike for him which is getting irrational. This is a man who’d tell you that (a) you’ve won the lottery (b) the dog’s snuffed it or (c) your dinner’s on the table in exactly the same tone of voice. He mentioned in passing several times Uniteds’ very recent loss to City by saying it would take a while to get over it. In this, I’ll have to bow to his superior knowledge due to the fact that he was a member of the Arsenal team dismembered 6-2, by United at Highbury in November 1990, so he can stick that one up his very ample nose.

As for the match, Berbatov played very well, scored Uniteds’ first with the great ball control he’s capable of and held the ball up with expertise to set Michael Owen up for Uniteds second. Antonio Valencia scored a beauty for Uniteds’ third, two minutes into the second half to finish off any faint hope that Aldershot had at 2-0.

The draw for the next round is on Saturday at midday. I’m writing this before Citys’ match at Molineux tomorrow night but on the assumption that they win that game and after recent events, I’d love it like Kevin Keegan if we drew them in the next round. The atmosphere in the ground was lively from what I was told by two mates of mine who were there. United fans coming out with old songbook, just like they did at Elland Road a month or so ago and were in great voice, as per usual, away from home. Aldershot fans, with the wit & charm that people from Aldershot are not famed for, sang a song about Alex Ferguson being a part of a womans anatomy, just below the waist and the all time classic about how they support their local team. All I can say to that is, having looked at their recent attendance figures is that their gateman must be on a monumental fiddle.

Aftermath Of The Blue Massacre, The New Dawn After The Blue Moon, Manchester, 24th Of October, 2011

Over the years, I’ve seen United get a good leathering a few times. The first thrashing I remember United getting was at Goodison Park in October 1984 when a rampant Everton team, who’d go on to win the title that season, beat United 5-0. I remember a title chasing United side being beaten 4-1 by Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day 1992 courtesy of a Dennis Bailey hat trick. The day/night before was Alex Ferguson’s fiftieth birthday and with United having a 5PM kick off the following day, there was a lot of innuendo and rumour as to how the United team had spent New Year’s Eve. On the day itself, a usually very good United team were appalling, losing heavily to a side they should have comfortably beaten.

In the Autumn of 1996, Newcastle United beat the Reds 5-0. That day, Newcastle were worthy winners but anybody who remembers that match knows that United were unlucky to lose 5-0. It was, as Ferguson said at the time, a blip and the end of season league table proved him right (this was the season, 1996-1997, that Liverpool, finished fouth in a two horse race). The same can be said about the time that United lost 4-0 at Anfield in September 1990 and 4-1 at Old Trafford, nineteen years later. Yes, the better team won but the results weren’t a true reflection of how United played, it was just one of those days.

A newly promoted City beat United 5-1 in September 1989, in a day and a game that no fan of either side will ever forget. United that day were that bad that they made a pretty poor City side look like world beaters. In March 2004, City beat United 4-1 in United’s first appearance at what was then called (I think) Eastlands. In my opinion, the result was a travesty, just another one of them occasional days when United had plenty of the game and created plenty of chances without finishing them off. City took their chances and it just summed up United’s day when Sean Wright-Phillips casually chipped in City’s fourth in the last minute. That season, Arsenal won the title without losing a league game, United would go on to win the F.A. Cup for the, to date, last time, beating City and Arsenal en route to Cardiff.

 The 5-1 in 1989 was, I thought, a once in lifetime day. Not even the most outlandish, bitter or deluded blue of my aquaintance ever thought anything like that would ever happen again, neither did I. Every one of my fellow reds knew that City were no longer the laughing stock. We all knew yesterday was gonna be a hard game but no red or blue, in their wildest nightmares or dreams saw this coming.

I’ve seen United play and ultimately lose valiantly to the mid 1980s Juventus team of Michel Platini, Paulo Rossi and Zbigniew Boniek (amongst others). I saw (virtually) the same United side destroy a Barcelona side that had Bernd Schuster and Diego Maradonna three weeks prior to the Juventus game. I watched United convincingly beat at least two great Liverpool sides in the 1980s and twice beat the so called invincibles of Arsenal in 2004. I saw Barcelona of Stoichcov, Bakero and Romario rip to pieces, a depleted, due to UEFA’s draconian foreigner rule, United side in 1994. That night, I think the average age of United subs bench was fifteen and three quarters* and those who were on the pitch weren’t much older. Whilst Barcelona can only play/beat what’s put in front of them, the outcome, 4-0, for me was farcical.

I’ve seen United well and deservedly beaten a few times. I’ve only ever seen United outclassed three times in my thirty years of watching them. First time was at the European cup final, against Barcelona in Rome, 2009, the second time was against the same team, same occasion in May this year and the third time was yesterday. With opportunities made and Silva rampant, six was a mercy. As much as United could and should’ve got double figures against Arsenal recently, City, if they’d have taken all their chances yesterday wouldn’t have been far shy of it either. Today, I’ve heard commentators and read match reports that said when Ballotelli passed City into the lead, it was against the run of play. In regards to possession percentages and what-have-you, they’re probably right but at no point did I ever think that City were under pressure. They soaked up United’s early possession with an efficiency that Jose Mourinho would admire. Going forward with Ballotelli, Aguero and the outstanding Silva, City looked frightening. United’s back four looked terrified of Silva but worst of all, United’s midfield didn’t exist. Everybody knows that Roy Keane’s never been replaced, yesterday, it was exposed in the most brutal possible way as there’s no way United would’ve lost so emphatically if Keane was in that midfield.

Alex Ferguson yesterday played Jonny Evans in the back four whilst leaving Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones on the bench. When Ballotelli done Evans like a kipper in the first couple of minutes of the second half, which lead to Evans sending off, that folly was painfully shown up. At the time, whilst City were in control of the game, it was still only 1-0 and obviously retrievable, down to ten men against a team as organised as City, it was suicide. Jonny Evans is clearly not up to level required to play in a team of United’s ambition and I don’t believe he’ll ever be trusted again in an important game after yesterday’s debacle. Tomorrow night, United play Aldershot, it’s a blessing to have a first team game so soon after yesterday’s match and I for one, can’t wait for it to kick off.

On the bright side, in every season that I remember United getting a good hammering, at the end of every one of them seasons’, there was a trophy on United’s honours list. Yesterday was bad, but red brothers and sisters, when all’s said and done, it was three points dropped in October and we all know how long a football season is.

* A slight exaggeration, not by much though

Back In The Summer Of ’89 – Manchester, 23rd of October, 2011

Everybody’s talking about The Stone Roses as United are bookies’ favourites and about to play City. After a promising start by United, City run riot and are 3-0 up before United score a great goal to give some faint hope. It’s all in vain as City attack again in waves before winning comfortably, 5-1. This is a memory of mine from September 1989, a memory I never thought I’d see repeated, but today, it’s even worse. At least when City won 5-1 in 1989, it was at Maine Road, today, they’ve won 6-1 at Old Trafford.

Nearly two months ago, I watched United give Arsenal the same kind of thrashing I watched City give United today. Before today’s game, the word on the quiet from my red brethren was a draw would be a good result due to the obvious fact that City are playing well and United, despite good recent results, are not.

Since City beat Tottenham 5-1 at White Hart Lane, there’s been all kinds of talk about how this could be their year. My belief has been that City have not played any team that they shouldn’t beat since then and I was waiting to see how they’d get on against teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or United. Today they gave a pretty good answer. Knowing City fans the way I do, they’ll already be out in the satellite towns of Manchester (despite all their talk, you won’t see many City fans in Piccadilly Gardens tonight) celebrating winning the title, like last season, before the clocks went back. This City team certainly can but there’s a long way to go ’til next May. As things stand, United are twelve goals & five points behind City, today’s a bad loss but we’ve all seen United recover bigger deficits than this.

On a personal note, I’m writing this an hour after the game, the result hasn’t yet truly sunk in, all I know for sure is City deserved the win. One thing I’ve gotta say in fairness to City fans is that for the first time in my years of watching derby matches, not once did I hear any mention, celebration or singing about the Munich air crash. Whether this is down to them now having a good team and thus not feeling the need to celebrate a tragedy or whether it’s down to the deserved slapping some of their fans got on Wembley Way or the motorway services last April, I don’t know but it was refreshing not to hear it.

United started the game with plenty of possesion and aggression but, despite that, I never thought at any time that City were under any pressure. Ballotelli’s goal was just too easy and when Jonny Evans got sent off in the opening minutes of the second half, I could feel a long afternoon coming on. With City three up on seventy minutes, United went into a kamikaze attacking mode without actually looking like scoring. The understanbly boisterous City fans were quietened with ten minutes to go when Darren Fletcher scored. City fans know from plenty of past experience that if any team could come back from 3-0 down, it’s United and there was a nervous quiet amongst the City fans’ section, just to my right but whilst United kept on trying, City’s defence were just too disciplined to be rattled. I believed when Fletcher scored that it was only at best a face saver, in the end, with three City goals in injury time, it wasn’t even that.

Fool’s Gold, Otelul Galati, 18th of October, 2011

A tepid match and a stagnant performance from United tonight. Before the game, one bookmaker was offering odds of 2/11 on United winning this game. Otelul Galati apparently started the match believing those odds themselves and but for some lax midfield play and passing from United with some poor finishing thrown in for good measure, Michael Carrick’s effort in particular, United would have been ahead as Otelul Galati seemed in awe of their opponents. Once Otelul Galati realised that United were mere humans and in sloppy mood, just like the Basle match at Old Trafford three weeks ago, they started playing with more confidence and became more of a menace to United’s defence.

In the second half there was a slight improvement in United’s performance but at the same time, no sign of danger. The referee, whilst making the occasional surprising decision, had a discreet first half. Being neutral and possibly bored with what he was presiding over, decided to add a bit of colour to a drab match by suddenly throwing yellow cards around like a croupier for the most innocuous of fouls. The penalty he gave in the 64th minute for Sergiu Costin’s handball was spot on. Wayne Rooney put the ball away confidently and before we know it, Nemanja Vidic gets a red card for a clumsy challenge on Gabriel Giurgiu, definetly a foul and probably a booking, but a red card was way over the top.

A few more bookings thrown in, a second one for Perendija who fouled Javier Hernandez and was sent off in the 89th minute meant that United who’d took control of the game after scoring were now virtually home & dry. The referee then correctly again, awarded United a penalty for a trip by Antal, on Rooney, the kind you see every weekend on the amateur football pitches up and down the country. Rooney scores again with this time an even better taken penalty than the first.

A very good result, ground out against a stout and stubborn opposition in a match that will be quickly forgotten.