Paupers At The Palace, Manchester – 30th Of November 2011

Walking away from Old Trafford tonight, there was just a feeling of disbelief and anger. When all’s said and done, it’s only the League cup United have been knocked out of and when the team gets shuffled around for these games, like they always do, it’s a fair bet that a team like Palace can come to Old Trafford and get a win. It ain’t the defeat that’s annoyed me, although I’d obviously rather United would’ve won, it was the manner of the defeat which is bad. United looked clueless from the kick off, played like a team who’ve just been introduced to each other and worst of all, played without any visible urgency or heart. All teams have bad days but when I see a team of mostly fringe players perform so poorly and with such lack of desire, then I wonder how they were given professional contracts in the first place. Special mention here goes to Jonny Evans and Darren Gibson, two players that I wouldn’t have representing Man United in a game of pool, never mind on the pitch. I heard Berbatov getting a lot of criticism and anybody who knows me, knows I’m not his biggest fan, but for me tonight, Macheda and his piss poor reading of the game exposed Berbatov badly. Then there’s Paul Pogba, a man who’s apparently refused a new contract at Old Trafford, after what I saw tonight all I can say is thank f$ck for that. I’m not gonna go there with Diouf, only to say, come back Bebe, all is forgiven. Continue reading Paupers At The Palace, Manchester – 30th Of November 2011

Noot Doon From The Toon – Manchester, 26th Of November 2011

A whole gamut of contradictory emotions were experienced at Old Trafford today where United were desperately unlucky to draw 1-1 with a resolute Newcastle side. This was the best Newcastle side I’ve seen since the 1995/1996 side, which bottled a championship winning points lead. At the beginning of the season, you would’ve got good odds on Newcastle losing only one league game by this stage of the season especially when they gave away, in my opinion their best player, Joey Barton, on a free transfer to Queens Park Rangers. As improved a team as Newcastle are, how they didn’t lose this game today is a mystery. Profilgate finishing by United (Fabio the most memorable one but by no means alone), An outstanding goalkeeping performance from goalkeeper Tim Krul and a couple of diabolical decisions given by both linesmen regarding the Penalty which gave Newcastle the equaliser and the late goal scored by Hernandez which was ruled offside. When Newcastle fans sang at the match official, Mike Jones, You’re not fit to referee on 79 minutes over the dismissal of Jonas Gutierrez, it was the one thing they said/sang today that I agreed with. Fellow reds, when you hear opposition fans bleating on about how United always get decisions given in favour at Old Trafford, try and remember the refereeing performance of this clown, Mike Jones, today. This is the referee who was stood down from top flight matches for incorrectly but hilariously, allowing a goal to stand in a game between Sunderland and Liverpool at the Stadium of Light a couple of years ago which involved Liverpool keeper, Pepe Reina, being distracted by a blown up beach ball.

An entertaining but relatively cagey first half had United edging possesion, A beautiful flick by Giggs bringing a fingertip save from Krul and Hernandez missing a good chance just before the half time whistle. Newcastle would break forward when possible with Obertan playing with plenty of heart but still looking out of his depth in the Premier league. In the second half, the match really took off. On 49 minutes United scored with a goal from Hernandez which to use the tecnical term, could be described as jammy. A minute later, a brilliant run by Brazilian full back Fabio should have seen United go two up but he leant back to shoot and it went flying over the bar. Rooney missed with a free header on 53 minutes and Ashley Young should’ve scored two minutes later. It’s no exaggeration to say that United should’ve been three goals up before referee Mike Jones intervened to  give Newcastle a penalty, the result of a fantastic and clean tackle from Rio Ferdinand on 61 minutes. After that decision, I had a sick gut feeling that it was gonna be one of them days. I lost count of the good chances United blew in the closing stages of the game with free headers and good shooting oportunities going high & wide. Brilliant saves were forced from Krul, hitting the woodwork twice, desperate goaline clearances and the coup-de-grace from the referee/linesman in the last minute of injury time, disallowing a perfectly legal Hernadez goal.

The Geordies or the Toon army, are the darling of a media who lionise the loyalty of these long suffering fans, whom have not seen their team lift a trophy since they lifted the Inter Cities fairs cup in 1969 (A predecessor of the UEFA cup/Europa league). With great modesty, Newcastle fans sing self gloryfying songs about how loyal they are which is their prerogative, I’d like to know how many of them chanting that ditty today, were regular attendees to St James Park in season 1990/1991 when their average attendance was 16,835, who were in the crowd of 10,009 for a match in season 1991/1992. Up to the 24th of October, the Sports Direct arena, had on average this season, 6228 empty seats per match. At that time, out of desperation, Newcastle United announced that they were cutting the price of tickets in half to fill the empty seats, this for a team who at that time, were unbeaten. That’s some demonstration of loyalty. Before the game, there was a pack of 12/15 young brave Newcastle fans shouting “toon army” and walking down the concourse making all kinds of aggressive come on gestures to no one in particular whilst there must have been 75/100 coppers nearby. Walking out of the ground after the game, I saw the same firm looking terrified and huddled desperately near a line of policemen on Sir Matt Busby Way (Warwick Road). Having come out of the old L stand of Old Trafford singing, to the tune of John Browns body, “Who the fcuk are Man United”, they were obviously taken aback by the passing United fans hostility to this chant. Having seen this, all I can say is that not even the thickest Leeds fan I’ve come across over the years (by Christ, I’ve come across a few) would’ve been as stupid as to do that.

There’s a whole host of irony that todays match has thrown up, the biggest one being is that Uniteds performance was by some distance, the best United have played since the halcyon days of the seasons begining. It was also the best atmosphere from the Old Trafford crowd that I’ve heard this season. Whilst today was definetly two dropped points, I think that United will, very soon click back into gear and start playing as we know they can.

Aimar The Eagle Saves Jesus – Manchester, 22nd Of November 2011

UEFA changed the game format for the European Cup in 1991 from two leg knockout to league, obstensibly because of complaints that away teams played too defensive in European football so it was to incentivise teams to win every game by going for points. There was no mention of increased revenues because of the more games this would incur, only a cynic would think that. I’ve recently been trying to remember the last truly great or memorable match in the group stages in the European cup and I go back to 1998 when United played two 3-3 draws against Barcelona at Old Trafford and the Nou Camp (if anybody can think of a any great group games since then, please tell me). Tonights blog was gonna be a rant about what a load of bollocks I think the group stages are, after the rubbish I’ve seen served up in the last four or five years (at least) but whilst tonights game wasn’t a classic, it was entertaining and exciting enough to pour cold water on that moan, for the time being anyway. What it didn’t pour cold water on though was Uniteds present fragility although oddly enough, I believe tonight was the best United have played since the derby match, just over a month ago, odd because it’s the first match United have failed to win since. The fragility that United have in midfield has been well documented, although to be fair, I thought Michael Carrick had a good game. Tonight, United were vulnerable due to some occasional comic defending from Phil Jones, which caused Benfica’s equaliser, a minute or so after United took the lead through Darren Fletcher and rank bad luck in the opening minutes with an own goal by the usually excellent Jones to give Benfica, whom were wearing a change strip very similar to the Golden monstrosity United were using ten years ago, the lead.

Dimtar Berbatov equalised on half an hour with a header which reminded me of Frank Stapleton with the way he appeared to expertly guide it in the net. This goal changed everything as United played with a fluidity and confidence that I’ve not seen since mid September. Within a minute, Ashley Young was through one-on-one with the Benfica keeper but snapped at the shot and Artur saved with his shins. What this suddenly did was wake up the Old Trafford crowd from the morose atmosphere that was prevalent before, this was suddenly turning into a proper European night atmosphere. Half time came at an unfortunate time for United who were playing with all the momentum, it took United a good five/ten minutes to get going in the second half. When Darren Fletcher put United 2-1 up on 59 minutes, the Stretford End celebrated by singing, to the tune of Sloop John B the bloody awful we’ll do what we want… song, seconds later, Bruno Cesar capitalised on Jones heavy footed back pass to David De Gea from to provide the cross, for Aimar, which gave divine intervention for Benficas manager, Jorge Jesus. The final score leaves United needing at least a draw in a potentially tricky match in Basle.

Overall, a frustrating night for United against a pretty good team, but a team that United should’ve beaten. There was, to use the words of Norman Lamont, some signs of the green shoots of recovery, United have definetly got some, but not all, of the confidence back of the performances of the early part of the season. Berbatov missed a great chance when unmarked to volley over from twelve yards out but the real heart stopping moment was when Rodrigo fired into the side netting, late in the game. From where I was sat, it looked on first impression that it had gone in and the Benfica fans over my right hand shoulder had thought so.

The atmosphere was rubbish until United equalised although Benfica fans were clearly enjoying themselves. The most left field thing I saw all night from the Benfica fans was a large banner which had on it the legend “Do you remember October 27th 1980, Hadjuk Split 6-0 Man Utd”. In the summer of 1980, Dave Sexton’s United side were knocked out of the UEFA cup by Widzew Lodz on away goals, so United went to Split for a friendly match, on the night of what would’ve been the next round. Somebody, who’s a Benfica fan, has gone to a lot of effort to make that banner, I’d love to know why.

The Statues At The Liberty – Swansea 19th Of November 2011

On the 7th of November 1990, Alex Ferguson took his United team just over the Welsh border to Wrexham for a European Cup Winners Cup second round, 2nd leg match for a 2-0 win that would be the last time United played a competitive match in Wales until today. I remember that night well, with it being my first “Euro away” watching United, it was an efficient and dour performance with United doing just what was required and nothing else. Today, twenty one years, one hundred miles south in distance and the same place in quality of performance, United did enough to win a game against a team who have a manager who believes in having his team playing good football, but a team that United should have been out of sight of by half time, but for some sloppy final balls/passes. It’s becoming a recurring theme this, but United have yet again got away with winning a game when not firing on all cylinders. At this rate, I’ll be happy for United to stay in contention for the title by January where I’m hoping that Alex Ferguson spends some of that Ronaldo money which he insist is still there and get a midfielder who can pass a ball accurately, tackle and take control of the game. If he doesn’t, then I think we can forget about the title.

Despite Swansea City’s admirable attitude to playing football, they are a mediocre side who whilst having periods of dominating possession never really looked like scoring, save for a glaring miss by Scott Sinclair on 23 minutes. Most teams, losing to United by a goal with, lets say ten minutes to go, would go on kamikaze attacking mission against which would normally result in United breaking on the counter and scoring, occasionally a siege can develop and United will concede. Swansea today played the closing stages of the match like a team seeing out a draw. There was no urgency or frenzy from them. It was a strange approach from a home side. All through the game United’s defence had Swansea well under control, Phil Jones once again outstanding. On 11 minutes, the time defying Ryan Giggs hustled the ball off Angel Rangel to set up Javier Hernandez to stumble the ball home.

After that, there was an abundance of opportunities for United to extend the lead only to lay off a casual and sloppy final ball. Wayne Rooney was playing too deep, attempting the lung bursting playing style of Bryan Robson and Roy Keane, at one point in the first half, it looked like he was trying to play a twenty five yard pass to himself, such was his vigour. I love that sense of commitment and desire that Rooney has, but his union card says he’s a goalscorer and one of the best in the world too, hopefully his time in midfield is as a makeshift, in lieu of a new midfielder signing in January.

One statistic I heard after the match was that United have the most clean sheets in the Premier League. This is after the statistic being bandied about in early October that said United had given opposing teams the most shots on goal up until then. This means to me that far from being a calamity, United have, with David de Gea actually signed a good keeper. Odd that nobody in punditry has pointed that out after the glee that greeted his mistake at Wembley or the Hawthorns. Where’s Mike Summerbee when you need him ? Humbug !

As for the atmosphere in the ground, the Welsh, southern Welsh in particular, are famous for their love of singing and they didn’t let anybody down today. A noisy and raucous crowd finally seemed to lose heart after about sixty minutes when I could hear United fans singing songs about Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Scholes. Take Andy Cole for example, my fellow reds are the only fans I’ve ever come across who sing songs celebrating a player who left ten years ago, whilst the match is playing. It’s a sign that if a player does good for us and behave honourably after leaving United (hello Mark Hughes), he’ll always be remembered and feted by Reds. It makes me proud to be a United fan but the truth also is that when United fans start singing songs in the middle of a game celebrating them players, it’s because they are bored. That’s fair enough, I’d rather United fans did that than do what the perenially unimaginitive do and start doing a Mexican wave. There’s nothing else in the world like being a red and tonight, I’m gonna be in the pub celebrating that, hopefully in true Manchester United style…

Long, Cold And Dark November Nights – Manchester, 19th Of November 2011

Two long, long weeks of of no club football but a couple of international friendlies for England, a storm over poppies, Sepp Blatters blarney and an embargo on transfers ’til January mean newspaper journalist get ever more desparate to fill their pages. The day after United beat Sunderland, a frenzy was brewing up over FIFAs refusal to allow England players to wear poppies on their shirts for the forthcoming friendly against Spain. Amongst the usual knee jerk reaction of political correctness gone mad and such forth (waddya mean you’d forgotten about it ??). Exactly six years to the day before England played Spain, England played against Argentina without wearing poppies, there was no clamour for the team to wear poppies, can anybody tell me what’s changed in the last six years ? By sheer coincidence, prior to the poppy furore, England skipper John Terry, had been accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers centre half Anton Ferdinand. This allegation had taken up a lot of column inches in the national press and the FA, with admirable common sense had decided to adopt an innocent ’til proven guilty stance. I wonder why they didn’t take that stance with Johnathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer in 2001 or with Rio Ferdinand in 2003 ? The problem the FA have with the John Terry allegation is that, like badly pasted wallpaper, the bubble gets pressed down, only to resurface, just as bad, pretty close by. Still the poppy fury sold a few papers, got an awful lot of people wound up about something they’d forget about a week later and ended up with the farcical gesture of players having poppies painted on their boots to circumnavigate a ban that had never existed in the first place.

Continue reading Long, Cold And Dark November Nights – Manchester, 19th Of November 2011