Different opponent, same old story.
It would seem that it could perhaps get tiring to keep seeing and saying the same things, but given the results that have been produced more often than not, and what United are on the verge of, I’d have to say no.
A certain amount of good fortune is usually required when chasing any sort of championship, and Lady Luck came through for us yesterday afternoon after the excellent Tim Howard had done so well to keep United at bay and off the scoreboard for more than 80 minutes.
That stroke of luck came courtesy of one Sylvain Distin, who put himself in serious trouble with poor positioning and an inability to quickly and properly deal with a ball that should have been hoofed away. After failing to redeem himself with a poor sliding clearance attempt, Distin could have done so had Antonio Valencia’s cross taken an Everton bounce, but to maximize his misery, it instead went right to its initial intended target.
It should’ve come as no surprise who rose perfectly to meet it at the back post, and he fully atoned for inadvertently keeping the match deadlocked up to that point. The waning moments proved to be a little nervy, as Everton did push for an equalizer, but once again, it was Javier Hernandez saving the day in a crucial win for United.
Chicharito hasn’t even completed his first season in England, and he’s still got a ways to go before he reaches his full potential, but he continues to make United’s investment look like a steal many, many times over. And whether it’s the Premier League title trophy, the Champions League title trophy, or both, he should be one of the first to get his hands on the hardware, due to the impact that he’s had in United’s success in both of those competitions.
His 12th Premier League goal and 19th in all competitions set off wild celebrations at Old Trafford (and no doubt in many places around the world, including my house), and for multiple reasons, it’s up there as one of the most important, if not the most important, of his tallies in a debut season that has exceeded any and all expectations.
Since Park’s 77th minute winner against Chelsea almost a fortnight ago, United hadn’t been able to hit the back of the net for almost 280 minutes – that’s three full games and change – as they failed to find a way through City at Wembley, misfired on several opportunities at Newcastle, and were repelled time and time again by Howard, who put in a Man of the Match-worthy performance against his former side.
Chicharito had a part in those scoring struggles, and late in the first half, he was unfortunately and unintentionally in the way of Nani’s goalbound effort after Antonio Valencia used pace and physical prowess to beat Leighton Baines on a run into the area, then pulled the ball back across for an unmarked Nani, who powered his shot goalwards…and into his teammate with Howard stranded.
Had United been unable to overcome that unlucky sequence and Howard’s acrobatics and the last several minutes finished as the previous 80-plus had, the door would have been wide open for Chelsea and Arsenal to take full advantage, especially with those two being United’s next two domestic opponents.
But thanks to Chicharito being Mr. Right Place, Right Time once again, United not only secured another three valuable points, but the title now looks set to come down to the two sides who were expected by most to be the last two standing come May.
United maintain the six-point advantage that was there going into the weekend’s action, but that advantage is only over Chelsea, who dispatched West Ham 3-0 in Saturday’s late game to keep themselves in the mix. With Arsenal losing 2-1 at Bolton to stretch their slump to one win from their last seven Premier League encounters, the Gunners are nine points back and all but out of the running, even if they’re able to take maximum points off of United next weekend. On a related note, quite the moving tribute by Bolton’s Tamir Cohen to his late father after scoring the winner against Arsenal. You can’t help but get a lump in your throat at those kinds of moments, no matter who you’re rooting for.
As expected as it was for United to get the three points against Everton, to be able to do it keeps United on course to perhaps be able to secure the Premier League title at home against Chelsea, sweet as that would be.
Not even considering United’s lack of away wins this season, the Emirates is never an easy place to play (I insist it isn’t, even with our recent success there and Arsenal’s three home league defeats this season), even if Arsenal aren’t at their best. So, even with the Gunners faltering at a key point in the season once again, it’d be a little much to pencil in a win for United in next Sunday’s clash, but with United’s clear edge in confidence and intestinal fortitude, we have reason to be positive about our chances to leave north London with a vital win.
Chelsea host Tottenham on Saturday, so United will go into the Emirates knowing what kind of a result they need to maintain or, if Spurs can score an important point or three for themselves, increase their advantage over the surging Blues heading into the clash of the titans at Old Trafford in two weeks. Matching Chelsea’s result next weekend, and United’s third win over Chelsea in little more than a month would seal the title. Outdo their result, and we’d only need a point against them to wrap up #19.
It also doesn’t hurt to go into a tricky trip to Schalke off the heels of an important, hard-fought win. Two draws and a defeat would not have made for any sort of positive momentum heading to a country that hasn’t exactly historically produced much in the way of positive results for us.
We can take further encouragement from the solid performance put in by Anderson, who will be in contention for a role against Arsenal. Finding consistency is the name of the game for the Brazilian, and if he can make the most of the opportunities he’s given for the remainder of the season, he’ll have a lot to build off of for next season. And while it might have been surprising to see Nani make way for Michael Owen in the second half, Owen proved to be a lively and active presence in his half-hour on the pitch, and he very nearly got on the scoresheet for the first time since his winner at Southampton in January. Could he have a part to play in the stretch run? It certainly doesn’t hurt to have his experience to turn to, but if nothing else, he will certainly receive at least one more Premier League appearance, which will qualify him for a Premier League winners’ medal.
The previous couple of results were extremely disappointing, and they were as good proof as anything that you need more than faith and fortune to see you through at this juncture of the season. But those two things can carry you a long way, and favorable bounce or not, United never wavered in their focus and determination to break through against a resolute Everton side. There’s no better time to have that constant belief on your side, as when bodies are wearing down and each game is more important than the last, the intangibles make every bit as much difference as anything else.
It’s safe to say United have the intangibles in full supply, and as a result, we’re almost there.
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