Reds caught, bowled and stumped by Bale – Manchester United V Tottenham Hotspur 29th of September 2012

We can’t say this hadn’t been coming. Until today, United hadn’t lost a first team match at any level against Tottenham since May 2001. In that time, we’ve seen Tottenham blow a three goal half time lead (September 2001), concede a last minute equaliser from Carlos Tevez (February 2008) and blow a two goal half time lead (April 2009), that’s just off the top of my head. Last time the two sides met in March this year, United did a smash and grab that had the criminal fraternity purring in respect.

Alan Gilzean celebrates as a Pat Jennings’ drop kick bounces over Alex Stepney into the Scoreboard End net in the 1967 Charity Shield at Old Trafford

This fixture has traditionally, from the era of Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and Paddy Crerand playing for United and John White, Jimmy Greaves and Dave McKay playing for Tottenham been a classic match. Today was up there with the finest of those legendary matches over the last fifty years.

 Nobby Stiles tackles Jimmy Greaves during United’s 5-1 win against Tottenham in December 1965

Tottenham came to Old Trafford today and were immediately on the front foot. United had barely touched the ball before Jan Vertonghen fortuitously scored for Tottenham after 90 seconds with a deflection off Jonny Evans’ hand which bamboozled United’s now joint first choice goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard. There may have been some luck in the goal but United’s defending in the build up to the goal was shocking. Tottenham didn’t hang back then. Like a lot of visiting sides at Old Trafford nowadays wise to the wafer thin midfield, they attacked the United defence with alarming ease. Moussa Dembélé, who’s already had one outstanding game at Old Trafford this season with Fulham, was in full control of middle of the park again today. Gareth Bale, hardly an unknown quantity, was allowed an uninterupted 50 yard run before hitting hard and low into the far post of Lindergaards,’s Stretford End net. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Bale do that over the last 3/4 years, the Laurel and Hardyesque defending from Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand was a sight to behold. Such was the ease that Tottenham were passing through United’s defence, I was quietly fearing another outcome like last season’s Old Trafford derby at half time.

Gareth Bale puts Tottenham 2-0 up on 32 minutes

With the ineffectual Ryan Giggs being replaced by Wayne Rooney at half time, the second half was the best forty five minutes of football I’ve seen United play this season. During a chaotic three minutes in the second half United scored with a great flick from Nani. This was immediately followed by more appalling defending, this time from Patrice Evra, to allow Clint Dempsey an empty net after Gareth Bale had yet again cut in on the flank to force a parried save from Lindergaard. Immediately from United re-starting the game, Robin Van Persie played a brilliant through ball to Shinji Kagawa who scored to bring it back to 3-2. From that moment on it was constant United pressure, played in front of for once, a roaring Old Trafford crowd. Tottenham fans, who in the first half made a great job actually supporting their team rather than singing songs about what great supporters they are (hello Geordies), were now getting twitchy. They’ve seen this all before with United recovering seemingly irrecoverable deficits against their side. With a perfectly good penalty shout after a Sandro Raniere handball turned down, I had a gut feeling this was going to be Tottenham’s day. United pressed constantly with Rooney hitting the post, Michael Carrick the crossbar, Van Persie shooting wide amongst many other near misses. Towards the end with four centre forwards on the pitch and an attacking fly goalie, United went kamikaze but Tottenham’s defence soaked it all up. Tottenham were lucky in the second half but the good luck they had against United yesterday had been coming. If only for United’s abysmal first half performance and their own stoic second half performance, Tottenham deserved the win.

No time for acrobatics as Nani retrieves the ball from the net having scored to bring it back to 1-2

Despite the defeat, this was one of the best games I’ve seen at Old Trafford in a long time and the second half performance from United gave heart that we might start seeing United play the way we demand they do. The atmosphere was electric for the first time a good while; Christ, even the B Stand were on their feet! More of the same next time round would be great, but does it really need a two goal deficit to wake the Old Trafford crowd up?

Anderson Cleverley see Magpies out – Man United V Newcastle , Old Trafford 26th of September 2012

United, fresh from picking up three points in Liverpools moral victory on Sunday just gone, tonight beat the undisputed champions of the moral victory in Newcastle United. A club that haven’t won a trophy since winning the Inter Cities fairs cup in 1969. There was less than a thousand of the self proclaimed most loyal fans in the world tonight crammed into L stand. Tonight in their Notts County influenced black and white striped shirts, they looked like a scattering of mint humbugs. Newcastle fans are famously brilliant, loyal and fanatical. The travelling toon platoon sang several songs about how wonderful they all are but my favourite one was the chant to melody of Three Lions , “Sheeera turned you down”. For once they were factually correct, Shearer also turned down the chance of winning eight league titles, four FA cups and one European Cup to play for his beloved hometown club. I bet he has no regrets whatsoever about that as he uses the brasso on his solitary league title medal, won with Blackburn Rovers, on a Sunday morning.

 Manchester United scrape past Newcastle in League Cup

Wayne Rooney back tonight for his first game since the Fulham match just over a month ago

United started tonight with a relatively stronger side than usual in this frequently renamed competition, a cup originally created in a fit of pique by the tyrannical Football League secretary, Alan Hardaker in 1960. Unusually for any United game, a triumvirate of forwards in Rooney, Wellbeck and Hernandez started. With Anderson, David De Gea and  stand in skipper Darren Fletcher also in the line up, this United side tonight had plenty of experienced players starting. An entertaining if somewhat sloppy first half was nicely wrapped up with Anderson scoring a screamer off the post past the steady Newcastle reserve keeper Rob Elliot two minutes before half time. Thirteen minutes into the second half, Tom Cleverley atoned for his dreadful miss in the 35th minute by putting United 2-0 with a calm finish to score his first goal for United. Four minutes later the excellent Papiss Cisse scored for Newcastle after a cross from a Shane Ferguson. Even though Cisse hit the bar on 85 minutes there was hardly any urgency from Newcastle in their play after they reduced the deficit. I reckon that Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, a man who spends so much time stood up that he gives ammunition to the pro-terrace lobby was more animated than any Newcastle player. Uniteds’ reward for this victory was an away match at Chelsea in the next round.

Tom Cleverley celebrates scoring his first senior goal for United with Danny Welbeck

United Win At Anfield – Liverpool V Man United 23rd of September 2012

A United win at Anfield is always cause for celebration. Despite the obvious mediocrity of the reigning League cup Champions (© Glen Johnson), this is still the first match most reds look for when the fixtures are announced and one of the hardest fixtures that United will have this season. That United won today with such a poor, sloppy and disjointed performance doesn’t matter one bit.

The news that Sir Alex Ferguson had decided to rest Nemanja Vidic was a gobsmacker. If you must rest players of Vidic’s importance and quality, then matches against the likes of Southampton, Norwich et al are the time to do it. To do so for an away match with the intensity of Anfield was a surprise. The other surprise was finding out that Ryan Giggs was named skipper in place of last season’s stand in captain, Patrice Evra. Evra who was booed throughout the game by salt of the earth scousers for being the victim of racism kept his head and dignity brilliantly today. That he gave another shaky performance was another thing altogether. Before the game, Sir Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rogers gave a joint interview where they both batted away loaded questions from SKY sports execrable interviewer, Geoff Shreeves with aplomb. It must’ve been in this fragile spirit of reconciliation that Rogers swopped Raheem Sterling for Jordan Henderson on 66 minutes. Sterling was running Evra ragged. Him along with the despicable but excellent Luis Suarez were the only Liverpool players who worried me when in possession of the ball.

There were times in the first half where I thought United were taking part in a training exercise for regaining possesion. The amount of 50/50 balls that were lumped up the field from Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Rafael was staggering. Virtually every time the ball was played upfield by United, it would be won by Martin Skrtel or Daniel Agger with an alarming ease. For all that possesion Liverpool had, there wasn’t any sustained pressure on United’s goal. On 39 minutes a follicly challenged half wit by the name of Jonjo Shelvey was correctly sent off by referee Mark Halsey after he lunged into Jonny Evans. At the time, Halsey could be clearly seen talking into his microphone to get the opinion of his linesman as to what happened. According to Shelvey though It was Sir Alex Ferguson who got him sent off. He made that clear to Ferguson as he was walking off the pitch. I didn’t know that managers were wired up to referees the same way that linesmen and fourth officials are. Later on he apologised to Ferguson via the medium of twitter but he also explained that …where I come from, people don’t grass people up… Sir Alex Ferguson comes from Govan, not a place well known for it’s tolerance of grasses. Always the victim…

Steve Gerrard lost Ryan Giggs on 46 minutes to put Liverpool 1-0 up and then ran off to his adoring masses on the McDonalds Kop to kiss the badge of the club he desperately tried to leave in 2005, three months after winning the European Cup.

Rafael, who’d given another defensively baffling performance scored a brilliant equaliser on 51 minutes. For all my doubts about Rafael’s ability at his principal job of being a full back, he does attack with some vigour, sometimes as was seen at Old Trafford last season against Everton, with suicidal intent. It’s rarely boring when he’s on the pitch. On 76 minutes,Daniel Agger clashed with Glen Johnson to leave Antonio Valencia free with the ball near the halfway line. Johnson recovered well to chase back Valencia to give away a definite but soft penalty. Valencia was lucky Johnson did that as he’d uncharacteristically made a balls of the counter attack. The injury to Agger was much worse than originally realised and this meant that Robin Van Persie had to wait four minutes to take the penalty whilst he was stretchered off. My split second gut reaction to the penalty was that Liverpools excellent keeper Pepe Reina had saved it. With United’s recent penalty taking record, I wasn’t taking a goal for granted. United were lucky to win today but we’ve been due some luck at Anfield. Liverpool fans can moan all they want with their quasi masonic and illuminati conspiracy theories, shrewder scousers know the score. All’s fair in love and war, United won today at the most unforgiving arena of them all, that to me, is all that matters.

Last weekend there were allegations made that United fans were mocking the Hillsborough victims in the home match against Wigan. Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm and a lifelong Liverpool fan has done admirable work in the past week in calming down the whipped up hysteria by plenty of nationally read disingenuous journalists. You know it’s getting serious when a man like the Daily Mirrors’ Brian Reade, a man not known for his charitable disposition towards United has, this week been the voice of reasoned moderation. All had gone reasonably well until after the final whistle 2/3 Liverpool fans made an airplane gesture in the main stand, yards away from the Anfield road end where United fans were locked in. There were TV cameras zoomed in on United fans all day yesterday waiting for an incident like this and here, I think United fans have walked into a trap. The media stirred up such a frenzy for todays match that they would have been very disapointed if it passed off completely without incident. United fans responded with “Murderers” (regarding Heysel) and “Always the victim“. Having heard a lot about the modus operandi of News International (SKY tv’s major shareholders) in the past year or so, I wouldn’t be that surprised if these knobheads were in the employ of SKY tv to provoke a reaction from United fans (see scousers, we can do conspiracy theories too !)

Nowadays we have City fans jumping around like annoying kids with wealthy parents trying to make out the Manchester derby is our biggest game. Even though City are deserved champions, our match with them isn’t, never has been and never will be of the magnitude of todays game against Liverpool. That they can’t fathom why that is explains their lamentable understanding of what football rivalry is actually about. The rivalry with City was geographical but now it’s a title rivalry. That can change but the rivalry with Liverpool never will. It’s historically meritocratic and Liverpool are close enough to us in Manchester for it to mean something locally. No matter how poor Liverpool are, and they really are pretty shit at the moment, nothing but nothing, compares with beating them.

Carrick to the rescue – Manchester United V Galatasaray, Old Trafford 19th of September 2012

I’m convinced that a good chunk of tonights crowd thought it was an an 8 o’clock kick off, there was an incredible influx of people entering the ground between 7.45 and 8. Whilst convinced of that, I’m absolutely sure that at least a third of the crowd think that the game is 75 minutes long. I’m quite liberal to people leaving the ground early for an early dart, beat the traffic, get to bar in good time etc if United are winning comfortably. It ain’t for me but fair play under the circumstances. Tonight wasn’t a comfortable win by any stretch of the imagination yet people were going through the exits like hot sauce through butter on 85 minutes, what’s with them ? Why are they there ?

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Galatasaray fans on Warwick Road as they head into the ground (Photo courtesy of Barney from Red News fanzine )

Galatasaray fans were up for making a noise tonight, anybody who remembers their visits to Old Trafford in the early 1990s won’t be at all surprised about that. They were and are impressive backing their team. The United home support tonight were as per usual nowadays in European competition, pathetic. The Stretty made some half hearted attempts throughout the night. I wasn’t in my usual seat tonight in the old B stand but in the J stand, stood very close to a very well known lead chorister of the red army. He managed to get a couple of chants going but it all tailed off. Last season when Ajax and Athletic club made a great impression in the ground, there was the thin comfort of there being nearly 8,000 of their most fanatical and well organised in attendance. Tonight there were less than half that number of Galatasaray fans here. It comes to something when a sizeable amount of pre-pubescant United fans in the second tier of the Scoreboard end are showing us how to create atmosphere. It felt a bit like being at an England U21 match at times.

Manchester United v Galatasaray: Shinji Kagawa hints as a new dimension in United's play

Shinji Kagawa shields the ball from Galatasaray’s Felipe Melo tonight

At half time tonight, stadium MC Alan Keegan read out an eulogy in memoriam of the two policewomen who were murdered in Mottram yesterday. In the stands of the ground while a general respectful silence ensued during the reading, we had the amazing sight of Fred the Red dancing around the pitch perimeter, clapping along and doing the Usain Bolt pose which is all in vogue at the moment. There’s sometimes a breakdown in communication in working enviroments due to messages not being correctly delived but there was no excuse here. The eulogy was being read over 10,000 fuckin’ volt speakers (or whatever they are), it was a truly surreal sight

Fred the Red entertaining the fans in 2008/2009 in a similar way tonight during a half time tribute to the two recently murdered policewomen

Galatasaray appealed for a penalty in the first minute. I still haven’t seen it but I’ve had a mixed opinion from fellow reds who had seen it on TV with replay as to whether it ws or wasn’t. Six minutes after that, Michael Carrick, looking like a seasoned centre forward, rounded Fernando Muslera to put United 1-0 up. Muslera was lucky that referee Wolfgang Stark played the advantage as not only would it have been a certain penalty, he would have definetly been sent off.

Michael Carrick rounds the goalkeeper to score for Manchester United

Michael Carrick being fouled by Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera en route to scoring Uniteds winner in the 7th minute

I long ago stopped greeting the award of a corner to United with any anticipation. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d begin to feel the same way about a penalty.  In my years of watching United, I can never recall United missing three penalties on the bounce. Every one of them has been shocking, one saving grace is that United have won all three games but three penalties ? Tonight Nani, on 52 minutes took a penalty gained by Rafael in front of the Stretford end. Of the recent three penalties, it’s debatable about which one was the worst taken but I’ve since learnt that Sir Alex Ferguson had thought that Robin Van Persie was going to take the penalty, nobody on the pitch seemed to know this. When the manager confers with his captain, Nemanja Vidic, every week (at least) what do they say to each other ? On present form with penalties it’s just as well that Michael Carrick kept his feet to score for United.

Cause for concern: Nani missed a penalty which would have doubled United's lead

Nani sportingly gives the ball to Galtasaray keeper Fernando Muslera from the penalty spot in the 52nd minute

A win’s a win all the same. I reckon United tonight have won the trickiest home game in this group. I may have underestimated Romanian side CFR 1907 Cluj, I thought they were the group cannon fodder, the same way Otelul Galati were last season. I certainly didn’t expect them to beat Sporting Braga 2-0 away from home tonight with such apparent ease. I’ll get a true gage in a couple of weeks how good they are when United play them away. Looking at this group, surely United won’t let the nonchelant arrogance which cost us so dearly last season nause up this group stage. I expect United to get through this group but they’d beter buck up for when they play the big boys come February. Tonight was a good result but it wasn’t a good performance. One good thing was the return of Darren Fletcher. I wouldn’t have put too much money on that when I first found out what was keeping him out. He looked rusty and made a couple of sloppy balls but I hope he finds his feet pretty soon. Like Nemanja Vidic, he was missed more than anybody realised last season, especially at the collapse in the title run in.

Come in No 24: Darren Fletcher replaced Paul Scholes in United's win over Galatasaray

Darren Fletcher replaces Paul Scholes on 78 minutes, like Scholes in January, it’s a very welcome return

Büttner wouldn’t melt – Man United V Wigan Athletic , Old Trafford September 15th 2012

Last Season United started the season like a train before some very unwelcome Euro 2012 qualifiers disrupted the momentum. While United carried on afterwards and won games, they didn’t play with any consistency again throughout the season. They grounded out results. This season, there’s been no momentum to stagnate. A tricky opening fixture yielded no points at Goodison but sloppy performances at home to Fulham and away to Southampton did result in wins. Today at Old Trafford for the first half at least, it was more of the same.

Tumble: Danny Welbeck goes to ground after rounding Ali Al-HabsiDanny Welbeck wins a penalty in the third minute 

After three minutes, Wigan conceded what to me looked like a blatant penalty. At the time of writing I haven’t seen a replay but a few people who have seen it have told me that it was a soft penalty. Whether it was a penalty or not, what Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi was doing lunging out to Danny Welbeck when the ball was rolling safely out for a goal kick, only he knows. Every Wigan player surrounded referee Michael Oliver in a scene which reminded me of a penalty given at Old Trafford against United in January 2000 when referee Andy D’Urso gave an equally dubious penalty for Middlesbrough after Jaap Stan tackled Juninho. That day, a very famous photograph emerged of Roy Keane, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Jaap Stam appealing the decision. Anybody who remembers that will recall the usual bollocks of Daily Mailesque rhetoric of role models and won’t somebody think of the example to children ? I somehow doubt that the Wigan players who surrounded the referee today in a similar manner will be subject to sermons from Gary Lineker or 2,000 word essays in the Daily Mail written by Charles Sale about how their behaviour is symbolic of the collapse in civilised society. I wonder why ?

Andy D’Urso retreating from protesting United players in January 2000, a seismic moment from which the reverberations climaxed last year in the looting riots in England

A poorly taken penalty by Javier Hernandez set the tone for a frustrating and tense first half, a performance of which was equally as poor as United performance at whatever Wigans Stadium is now called in April just gone. Nani and Rafael were playing like talented children who have no tactical guile. Debutant Alexander Büttner played with plenty of ideas but run into too many blind alleys in the first half.

Ali Al-Habsi saves Javier Hernandez penalty in the 4th minute

On his 700th appearance for United, Paul Scholes showed everybody how it’s done in the 52 minute when he was in the right place at the right time to put United 1-0 up after a mistake by Ali Al-Habsi. Eleven minutes later Javier Hernandez made up for his early mistake when he put United 2-0 up. I was right in line with Hernandez and there was a delayed reaction around me when he put the ball in the net. I looked straight to the linesman waiting for a flag that never came. Hernandez looked a good five yards offside to me but a mate of mine who’s in an exec box and has the privelege of an instant replay told me he was on. Both Alexander Büttner and Nick Powell marked there debuts with excellent goals in the 66th and 82nd minutes respectively.

Manchester United's Alexander Büttner

Alexander Büttner outwits Wigan Keeper Ali Al-Habsi on the near post to make it 3-0 on 66 minutes

The atmosphere today was mostly as flat as I can remember some of last seasons games against poor opposition. Wigan, a town more famous for it’s excellent pies and it’s so-so rugby side couldn’t attract a four figure travelling support for an away match less than 15 miles away. With their fans singing songs about us Mancunians being on the dole and them paying our benefits, I had an epiphany about Wigan today. Here was me thinking it was a place which had gained a reputation for consuming badly mixed amphetamines and being the homeland for the original scab miners in the 1920s and all the time they’ve actually enjoy unlimited affluence. It’s a mystery why all the Wigan Athletic players live in Alderley Edge when there’s such material decadence available in Wigan. They also sang songs in celebration of City to a bored K stand. With a bit of luck, they’ll go down this season. Don’t get me wrong, I have no particular dislike of them it’s just that like Wimbledon, they’ve hung around a wee bit too long. Wigan fans should go back to getting over familiar with their sisters and return to their true first love of Rugby League.