Atmospherically, United against Liverpool is never going to be the Woodstock festival but passing by the Liverpool fans today on the forecourt, about quarter of an hour before kick off, both sets of fans were baiting each other, divided by police lines. It may have been a lot of hot air, the ‘hold me back’ bollocks that occurs when traditonal enemies see each other and want to put a bit of a show on. I didn’t recognise one person in amongst the crowd who were ‘firm’. The last time I saw Old Trafford this moody was in January 2002 when Danny Murphy scored a late winner for Liverpool in the Stretford End. That was post match but today, it was all pre-game. The corresponding match last season was played in the wake of the furore of the Suarez/Evra affair and a pretty sickening FA Cup defeat at Anfield two weeks prior. The atmosphere that day outside the ground was nowhere near as lively then as it was today going in. By United/Liverpool standards, the atmosphere in the today during the game was quiet subdued. Maybe it was the kick off time or maybe it was the freezing weather but after the pre match bravado outside, once inside people seemed more concerned with keeping warm than creating the raucous atmosphere we normally get at this fixture. A couple of minutes into the game, Liverpool fans made a statement of intent when a smoke bomb went off in the middle of their stand. Apart from the Scousers displaying their legendary self celebrated wit with songs about Bryan Robson having VD and implying Gary Neville’s relationship with his mother had not progressed past the oedipus complex, this was the sole contribution they made to first half atmosphere.
United went in at half time only 1-0 up through a Robin Van Persie goal on 19 minutes following some good work by Patrice Evra. United should have been out of sight by half time. That they weren’t was down to some lackadaisical finishing from Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Robin Van Persie, who tried being a little too clever just before half time. Liverpool didn’t look at the races but I knew that they were not going to be as bad in the second half as they was the first. At half time, the K Stand serenaded the Scousers to their right with ‘We want Kenny back, say we want Kenny back’. Brendan Rodgers doesn’t cut it regarding being a figure of derision the way Rafael Benitez and Kenny Dalglish did. Sure we can all take the piss out of his David Brentisms but the truth is, he’s about as easy to dislike as Roy Hodgson. Rodgers might prove to be a great manager but I somehow doubt it. He talks with all the profound emphasis of Bill Shankly without possesing the wisdom, wit or humour of the Glenbuck man.
Half and half scarves for United against Liverpool, I don’t blame the grafter, but who buys this stuff?
We know the score with Liverpool. No matter how bad they are, this is one of the hardest matches of the season. In the days leading up to this game, fellow reds were telling me that Liverpool were on for a thrashing akin to the 4-0 leathering we gave them in April 2003. I wasn’t so confident, sure I thought United should win but I never take anything for granted against Liverpool. They have been garbage all season but I knew they’d raise their game today. Liverpool’s new signing and ex Chelsea and City forward Daniel Sturridge, was brought on by Brendan Rodgers in place of Lucas Leiva at half time. Liverpool started the second half well but were undone when United, in the 54th minute, scored to go 2-0 in front. We were told in the stadium, Patrice Evra had scored the goal and the looks of twisted hatred on the scousers behind me that he, of all people, had scored, was a joy to behold. From my position in the ground, in the old B stand/South Stand, I couldn’t see clearly who’d scored but a minute or two later, I received a text telling that it was actually Nemanja Vidic who’d scored and for the coup de grace, he was offside. That will be the internet awash tonight with Liverpool fans, maybe even their players too, posting photographs up with a United shirt superimposed on today’s referee, sergeant Howard Webb.
Three minutes later, following a Steven Gerrard shot from 20 yards, Daniel Sturridge capitalised on David De Gea’s parry to bring the score back to 2-1. Immediately following the goal, two distress flares went off amongst the Liverpool fans. Bearing in mind that in the last couple of years, Liverpool have been hiding behind the most spurious of excuses to reduce United’s ticket allocation I wonder if Liverpool will have their allocation cut for their visit to Old Trafford next season for the lighting of the flares?
This is the worst Liverpool side I’ve seen in some time but you can never relax in a game like this when only a goal up. Especially with Liverpool having players like Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and an over the hill, but still effective Steven Gerrard. After Liverpool scored, they held most of the possesion in the most excruciating half an hour of football I’ve seen since City scored early in the second half a month or so ago. Whilst having plenty of possesion and with an invigorated Danile Sturridge being a real menace, they didn’t exactly lay siege on United but I had a nagging fear that they would score. A very nervous Old Trafford jeered loudly when the 4th official held up the electronic scoreboard to reveal four minutes of injury time. Completely out of character for a United side, they played for time and when Howard Webb blew the final whistle, in the 5th minute of injury time, it was the most relieved I’ve been and seen Old Trafford this season.
A sign was on the top of the cantilever at the Stretford End today in a similar veign to the sign on the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, above United Road and it was the first time I’d noticed it. Basically it just said Streford End in big red letters. What’s the chances of the Stretford End being officially renamed in the summer from the ludicrous West Stand moniker that it’s had for the last twenty years? Here’s hoping.
United free kick in the second half attacking the Stretford End (photo courtesy of James O’Neill)