Due to a long standing pre booked long weekend in Benidorm, today was the first and health permitting, last match at Old Trafford I´ll miss this season. Any hope I had of laying off my season ticket today was well and truly scuppered on Thursday morning when United sent a text message out to all season ticket holders offering to move their seat if they wanted to bring a heathen (none member) with them. I literally couldn´t give my ticket away for today´s match, a Saturday which has historically always enticed a lower attendance (unless United are playing a traditional enemy), due to it´s proximity to Christmas and fellas being out shopping with their wives/girlfriends. I find it perversly reassuring in the the some things never change sense, that behind the phony Premier league and SKY tv quasi religous fervour, the attendances will be affected by this weekends antics in the Dumplington centre.
Watching the match in the very friendly and accommodating Stretford End bar on the Calle Londres, there was an abundance of TV screens in the place showing horse racing, other matches and United. It was a bit like being in a benign version of George Orwell´s 1984 such was the ubiquity of TV screens. Whilst United were on, there were cheers aplenty as Liverpool were being hammered at Anfield by Aston Villa and we also saw in real time, the good but in my opinion overrated Marouane Fellaini sticking his nut very clumsily on Ryan Shawcross of and at Stoke. As for United, some very wasteful finishing saw this match end up with a relatively respectable 3-1 defeat for an abysmal Sunderland side. After 16 minutes and some great wing play from Ashley Young, a lad who´s clearly got his confidence back, Robin Van Persie scored to give United the lead. He´s turning into some signing Van Persie. All summer, myself and fellow reds in general were screaming for a new midfield anchor man (still are in fact) and whilst I knew Van Persie to be a class centre forward, I believed his signing should have been way down the list of Uniteds priority. His impact since his signing has been sensational, I actually believe him to be a better player now he´s at Old Trafford as he was at Arsenal. That Sir Alex Ferguson signed Van Persie in place of a much wanted midfielder is testament to the fact he´s been United´s manager for 26 years and I´m a mere blogger. I can now see why Arsenal fans have taken Van Persie´s departure so badly.
Three minutes after Van Persie scored, a beautiful 1/2 played between Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick lead to Cleverley making it 2-0 with a brilliantly taken goal that went past Sunderland´s desperately grasping Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet. After that goal, United looked like running riot, Wayne Rooney missed two good chances and Patrice Evra, a headed oportunity all before half time. Just before the hour, Wayne Rooney made up for the misses by scoring with his shin into an unguarded net after a bamboozling run by Robin Van Persie had the Sunderland defence chasing shadows and leaving Rooney unattended in the six yard box.
We were expecting Nemanja Vidic to start but in the end Sir Alex Ferguson chose Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling as his Central defence. Smalling, clearly a skilful and talented centre half, still has a lot to learn about his positioning. He was in my opinion, caught badly out of position a month ago to allow Anthony Pilkington of a staggeringly poor Norwich City side to score the winner at Carrow Road. Today, saw the return of the slapstick defending that we´ve been watching from United all season. Smalling allowed ex United forward and makeweight in the Dimtar Berbatov deal to Tottenham, Frazier Campbell, an empty net to head the ball into whilst he´s stood a couple of yards to his right of the post marking fresh air. Ultimately, United won today so hopefully that goal will be no harm done but it´s defending like that which cost United the title last season. Another thing I noticed today (and if I´m wrong, then please correct me) is that David De Gea didn´t once catch the ball. That he´s a superb shot stopper and an instinctively good goalkeeper is beyond dispute but this habit he has of unnecessarily punching the ball when I believe it would be just as easy to catch, causes a lot of panic in the United defence.
As for the atmosphere, it came over great on the TV screen. Acccording to Lee Thomas, a group of a dozen or so Reds, in a rocking Stretford End (terrace) and clearly inspired by Ajax´s impressive rendition of the Bob Marley classic Three Little Birds, were this afternoon were singing “One love, oooooooone looooooooooooooooooooooooooove, let’s watch United and feel alright”, I hope this one catches on. There was also an airing “you’re not laughing any more” at the glum looking away end at 3-0 with United threatening a cricket score. There was a lot of talk from reds prior to yesterdays match of wanting United to murder Sunderland, especially after the small time antics of their fans following SergioAgüero ´s goal last May when City beat QPR in the last minute. I too wanted United to give Sunderland a good leathering but not for that reason, I looked at it purely from a goal difference perspective. As for Sunderland themselves, who cares about them? They can´t even fill their pretensiously named stadium unless United or Newcastle are there. Anybody with any memory will recall them coming to Manchester in May 1996 on their way home from Prenton Park to celebrate with United fans on Warwick Road after United had just beaten Newcastle to the title. That´s Sunderland for you though, the club have won nothing since Ian Porterfield scored the winning goal for them in the 1973 FA Cup final against a brilliant, strongly fancied and much reviled Leeds United side. If football needed an analogy for masturbation then Sunderland are the epitome of that self pleasure/abuse.
United are a notoriously crass when it comes to their customer relations and the way they treat the average fan as opposed to the execs. I could write a book about United´s twatty behaviour towards fans through the years and this transcends the Glazer, PLC and Edwards regimes. For all that though, credit where credit´s due, according to Barney, the editor of Red News, United invited all season ticket holders over the age of 80 for a meal and meet and greet from Sir Alex Ferguson where he thanked them all for their support and wished them all a happy Christmas. I know also that every Christmas, United players visit the local childrens hospital and give out presents and most definitely light up the day for the kids in there. For all that though, when it comes to treatment of fans and ingratiation, City piss all over United. It´s great to see United take the initiative with the kids and the OAP´s, hopefully they´ll carry this on, surely it can´t be too much trouble.