By Nathan Thomas.
Yesterday was torture, there, I said it. I had the misfortune of being sat in the old scoreboard end on Sunday afternoon and was given a goal fest to feast upon, however much to my eternal horror the goals came from the team in blue. It is a game that will be discussed for years and just as the 5-1 from 1989 was disappearing into the past, this happens; it was without doubt the worst £32 I have ever spent!
Coming back to matters on the pitch results like this always provoke knee jerk reactions, from both sets of supporters; I’m sure some City fans will have been predicting a season laden in silverware this morning and I’m sure some pessimistic Reds will have been mourning the ‘crumbling of the empire’. However, as impressive as the result looked from a Blue perspective and as impressive as their football was at times it is important to take a step back and take a few things into account. The turning point in the game undoubtedly came at the start of the second half when Jonny Evans was dismissed after bringing down Mario Ballotelli as he raced through on goal. It was a hammer blow to United, already one down in goals they were now one down in bodies, it was always going to be an uphill battle however the old adage ‘never write off Manchester United’ sprang to mind shortly after Evans’ dismissal. This time there was to be no miracle comeback or last gasp finish at the Stretford End as we had the displeasure of watching our noisy-neighbours turn up the volume. Undoubtedly helped by the extra man advantage you do have to acknowledge City’s ruthlessness, Silva was excellent and even Ballotelli decided to keep his toys in the pram and notched a valuable brace. A Manchester City of four or five years ago may have nicked a second and then sat back and held what they had, not any more, they took swift action and put the Reds thoroughly to the sword, they deserve credit and any lingering doubts about City’s title credentials have been emphatically answered.
All this Man City appraisal is making me feel a bit funny, so let me pop my Red tinted specs back on and look at the game from a Man United point of view. The result, was horrible, no doubt, however although I woke up on Monday morning feeling awful; in the general scheme of things I am not overly worried, in the first half United had the lion’s share of possession albeit Ferguson will have been disappointed with the Reds inability to get in behind the back four and really penetrate into the final third. United had a lot of the ball up until the edge of the area but couldn’t puncture a resilient City defence, on the positive Ashley Young seemed to have the better of Micah Richards whom should have been booked well before his late second half yellow after a number of cynical fouls in the first half. United may have reduced to pot shots from outside the box but so were City, their attacks were sporadic, although they did carry potency. Mario Ballotelli’s goal was there only real chance of the first half, credit therefore must go for their clinical nature in front of goal, but overall United shaded the first half and were unlucky to go behind when they did. Subsequently I am convinced that United would not have lost Sunday’s game had they had a full quota of players for the entirety of the second half. You only have to look at how the Reds started the second half even with ten men, they dominated City for a ten minute spell after the break and looked like they might even snatch one, as it was City expertly utilised the extra space in the United side and took full advantage.
Another reason to cite the lack of bodies as the key factor is that for large periods of the second half ten-man United gave as good as they got, the possession was 49%-51% and the territory gained was a similarly even 48%-52%, not dominant statistics. The fact that when Darren Fletcher made it 1-3 with a spectacular goal with nine minutes to go sparked optimistic hopes of the comeback of comebacks showed how well United had dug in despite the sending off. In truth Fletcher’s goal was arguably the worst thing that could have happened to the Reds, a 3-0 scoreline would have been tough to take but with ten-men it would not have caused shockwaves through football like 6-1 did. When Fletcher scored it gave a new found impetus to United’s players, sniffing an unlikely reprisal pushed forward with careless abundance, thus leaving huge gaps at the back for City to exploit. Once City scored their fourth United should really have just took the result and ensured that they did not concede any more, however United players are taught from the earliest stages of their careers to go for the win, never settle for anything else and unfortunately this mentality, along with a worrying defensive lapse in concentration cost United big.
The fact that with five minutes of normal time remaining the score was only 3-1 shows that it was in the remaining few minutes that the Reds imploded, I think it is here where the real grievance lies. 3-1 would have been tough but understandable, 6-1 just shouldn’t have happened, Ferguson will have hammered home that Reds need to concentrate until the Fat Lady spews her guts out, as it was United just seemed to stop after the fourth goal. Laziness crept in, typified by Ferdinand’s late back pass which went out for a corner, in the end United could count themselves lucky it was only six as in the dying embers City romped forward in manner of which the last time I saw something like it I was twelve years old and playing on the park and my team were winning 16-11, it was too easy for City in the end and that was the most disappointing aspect of it. Admittedly the United players are only human and after exerting a mammoth effort in the second half, then to be handed a sniff of a comeback only to have it snatched away would have destroyed most teams.
Furthermore not many fans have the right to critics United for seemingly throwing in the towel as an abysmal amount of fans streamed out of Old Trafford early, the Red mist really did descend then although credit must go to the large portion of Reds who stayed and sang until the end. Coming back to the players though, they are human yes, but their professionalism should have conquered that and ensured that despite the scoreline United maintained a reasonable solidity and kept the score reasonably respectable (considering the circumstances).
Sunday was bad result no doubt however as Ferguson has hammered home in almost every year of his twenty six year reign at Old Trafford the important thing is how United respond, this for me is the only worry, can United overcome a 6-1 sized blow before a tough fixture at Goodison Park next Saturday. This in my opinion is the only question mark, as for the table, being five points behind the leaders in mid October is no bad position at all and as we know all throughout United’s history great things have emerged from the ashes of adversity and I see no reason why there won’t be a repeat.
Thanks to Nick Coppack of www.manutd.com for the stats.
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