Moysey reckoned it wasn’t a 3-1 game, which is obviously incorrect – but we know what he means. Until we were sort of overrun in the late stages, we matched our big-spending, tourist-backed opponents. But lose we did, albeit with a gutsy performance.
It was blowing a pretty unpleasant little blizzard as I left the house, but the weather improved as we headed south, stuffing ourselves with the inevitable post-Chrimbo buffet – at which point the exhaust bust, and the rest of the journey was spent with what sounded like a Subaru Impreza under the back seat. Which was no fun if you were sitting in the back seat. Bury was “done” for dinner, the Trackside bar having moved its door yet again, just to confuse us, and the last leg of 18 miles took 80 minutes thanks to the Trafford Park shopping traffic, leading for calls for all such places to be blown off the face of the earth at the earliest opportunity.
The usual multiple ticket checks, the rather intrusive sniffer-dog encounter (pyrotechnic detection dogs, apparently), the full-on search followed the rather chaotic effort at crowd organisation, and we were in.
Two changes to last week’s team, as Januzaj wasn’t allowed to play so Seb got a start, and Love, despite the praise heaped on him by the manager after the Watford game, made way for Jones.
Jones Kone Papy PVA
Denayer Ndong Seb
Borini Defoe Anichebe
Defending the end nearest us in an otherwise hushed Old Trafford, Ndong started as the deepest midfielder and Vic pushed wide on the right with Borini on the left. We closed the hosts down well, but it was Pickford who made the first save, getting to Pogba’s shot/cross/hard and low ball at the near post and Papy completing the clearance. Despite the amount of effort we were putting in, there was a composure and patience about our game, although a surprise break didn’t really look on the cards. We forced a corner, and Papy managed to get a shot away when the ball dropped, but it hit one of our own and we had a couple more chances as United couldn’t get the ball out of their box – but it wouldn’t go in. Them’s the break when you’re down at the bottom – goalmouth scrambles seldom go your way.
If there had been anyone in the ground unaware of Pickford’s distribution, his kick to Defoe put them right. Defoe controlled it and ran to the in to the left side of the box, but his left-footed effort swung wide of De Gea’s right-hand post. Still, it showed what we could offer, and when Blind fouled our man as we sped towards the box, he was booked. PVA and Seb stood over the ball, and as we debated which of them was best placed to curl the ball whichever way, PVA thumped it in and drew a good save from De Gea, who palmed it away at full stretch. Close, but not close enough. Big Vic took a tumble and looked to have done something unpleasant to his right shoulder, which required treatment – after which he switched to the left for a while. Thankfully, he shook off whatever damage it was.
Having weathered that little squall, the home side had most of the ball without giving Pickford too much to do. Pogba drew some jeering from our fans when he collapsed far too easily in our box, then Mata tried to claim a penalty when he barged into Kone – let’s face it, matey, if you barge into Kone, you’re gonna bounce a fair distance. Then Pogba’s shot took a deflection and shaved Pickford’s left hand post, before he shot way over to cries of “what a waste of money”. Pickford did pull off a couple of decent stops, taking a high one and then tipping a shot away to his right, before Blind picked up a flick from Ibrahimovic and wriggled into the box to shoot past a load of legs and way beyond Pickford’s left hand. That was with five to go to the break, and we decided to keep it at that rather than go for broke and concede another. Sensible choice, and when the three added minutes were up we took a deep breath and went for a cuppa.
No changes for either side for the restart, and, as we were only the one goal down, there was always the chance of nicking one back and changing the complexion of the game. The home side had other ideas, and tried to build on what they’d got in the first half – consequently it took us a good ten minutes to get settled, during which time Pickford had to get his foot to Ibrahimovic’s effort as the big bloke broke through, and the Swede messed up another chance. There were also the string of what we now regard as standard saves as the packed away end encouraged the Lads to better efforts. Impressive noise, as usual, from our travelling fans – which is more than you can say for the home crowd. Presumably the song-sheets and CDs hadn’t been translated into enough languages, or delivered on time, or they’d simply forgotten that you can, as a fan, actually become part of the game.
Lingard was replaced by that Mkhitaryan bloke (another who’d cost more than our entire team) and with just about his first touch he shot just wide –Pickers had it covered anyway, we reckoned. Kone and Papy were coming up with some brilliant tackles and interceptions to keep the score down, but each was guilty of giving the ball away after initial good work. With Big Vic working hard to hold the ball up down the right, in front of our fans, we won several corners, with the taker alternating between PVA and Seb, and we varied the delivery when Seb’s low one found its target in Vic, but he couldn’t turn to get the shot in. There were only eight minutes left when Ndong did the same, and it allowed Pogba to play in Ibrahimovic, who ran unchallenged at Pickford. He poked it to Jordan’s left to double the lead. Bugger. If only we could have kept it tight for a bit longer… and four minutes later a cross came in from their right which Mkhitaryan put away with an acrobatic effort that you had to applaud – but it was offside, no question.
The something strange happened – the song sheets arrived, and the home fans sang a song. In response, we sent on Love for Ndong, just to give the lad the experience of playing while the home fans were singing.
As the clock clicked over onto 90.00 and the fourth official was about to raise the board to display the added time, Rojo headed weakly clear and only as far as Fabio, standing 25 yards out. Our favourite Italian took it on his chest, and took a step forward as he volleyed it off the outside of his right boot and it looped and curled into the top left corner of the net with De Gea rooted to the spot. A legitimate goal, and one worthy of Goal of the Month consideration. As there were three minutes added, there was time to celebrate then try to get something else back – which we couldn’t do.
OK, they were better than us and had a shedload of shots and the majority of possession, but 3-1 did slightly flatter them. When you have players like Mata, Ibrahimovic, and Pogba in the starting line-up and that Armenian bloke on the bench (total cost £140 million, including one free transfer) who make things look so effortless, you have a distinct advantage against a team that is basically 90% of our fit and experienced players, and included Seb, who’s played only a couple of hours of football this season. When you put in the effort we did today, legs get tired in the later stages, and when legs get tired so do heads, and that’s when bad decisions are made.
So there were some positives to take, and if we play like that every week we’ll be OK (but how many times have I said that?) so we’d better do it on Saturday against home specialists Burnley.
Man of the Match? Great work from Kone and Papy, but each gave it away at crucial times. Ndong had probably his best game for us, but also gave it away at a crucial time and still needs to produce more killer passes – but that’s not just him. We need somebody from midfield to be doing that on a regular basis (Januzaj, anybody?). Another assured display from Denayer, but when you look at the stats for the game they tell you that United had 25 shots. That Pickford let in only three means that he gets it.
Back on the bus, slow crawl out of the car park and past the accursed Trafford Park, then a couple of hours with the Impreza under the back seat giving what for. Lovely. Mince pie, anyone?
Keep the Faith
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