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Reds 1-0 Spurs: Reds Scrape By, Brilliant Result

Manchester United Crest  Tottenham Hotspur Club Crest

Even during United’s peak, last season, when they were brushing teams aside for fun, there were moments where one might have been perfectly justified in thinking if the team was actually capable of sustaining the form till the final lap. Those doubts weren’t put to rest by 4-0 defeats to Bolton or the opening day Fulham game. True, those games gave us a euphoric sense of pride, seeing our team crush opponents in such style. But there have been games, when, unconvincingly, the team managed to deliver a result that gave us a sense of satisfaction that more than made up for the obvious shortcomings. The 1-0 win against Liverpool was a case in point. So was the other Fulham game where Ronaldo’s goal sealed a late win.

Yesterday’s game against Spurs can neither be compared to the swashbuckling, Bolton-thrashing United, nor the one that beat the dippers at the death. Nor did it give us satisfaction. What it did give us, however, was a long overdue sense of relief.

While the team played under enormous pressure to deliver, it could be argued that Spurs might have been under more pressure than us. While their fans initially turned on their manager (which was ridiculous, in the first place) they did realize their folly and backed Martin Jol to the hilt in the light of events that transpired in their boardroom. With those factors in mind, it was surprising (or was it?) to see Tottenham show greater initiative – and that too at Old Trafford – than their counterparts.

The game was a study of contrasts from United’s perspective. Their last three games displayed the full array of attacking skills, but for the most important aspect of being able to finish those pretty build ups. The defence was also hardly tested.

Yesterday, however, the team was under fire from the word go – Robbie Keane, showing first signs of intent by hitting the woodwork very early in the game. Berbatov showed everyone why Tottenham would be absolutely nuts to let him go. The Bulgarian showing his class – be it in a withdrawn position with his touch, or with his movement in the box. Just ask Vidic and Ferdinand, who showed enough recovery and awareness to hoof his shot off the line. Again, ask Wes Brown, whose last ditch, valiant dive saved United the blushes. (There were controversies created by both situations, which I will touch upon later.) Gareth Bale was also impressive on debut – so there goes two players we let pass from under our collective noses. Although, this is not a time to weep over it.

Anyway, United’s performance was at best below par. And this is being generous. The Reds did camp on Tottenham’s half for a good portion of the match, but it never looked like they were going to create anything. There was the Tevez shot that was cleared off the line, Carrick’s 25 yarder and a few more chances. But none of them really made you feel that we were going to score. So the goal that Nani scored – that took a deflection off Tevez – was completely out of the blue.

While last season we were spoilt due to a surfeit of goals, this season, watching Nani’s goal was an experience in itself that reminded me again of the simple joys of winning and scoring goals against the odds, and, dare I say, as relative underdogs in the context of the match. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers – this felt like winning the lottery for that moment. Fergie’s alleged warning be damned, I wanted Nani to somersault all around the park, as some sort of an acrobatic salute to the fans.

Honestly, Nani and and the fans were due a goal, and after the horror show so far, we were all in a position to accept even the most dubious of deflections, as long as it found its way to the net.

Coming to the players, it was really hard to pick out one player that actually stood out. Carrick, as all have said, was poor. Vidic was uncertain in his positioning, something which played a role in his collision with Berbatov. Ferdinand was also in one of his bad days, that we have learned to get used to, over the past many seasons. Although his clearance off the line redeemed him somewhat. I am not sure how that redeemed him, but one tends to think of it that way if your defender does clear a ball off the line. Brown wasn’t spectacular but again his last ditch dive saved us.

Nani, but for the goal, wasn’t too threatening and the same can be said of Tevez. The pair ran their socks off, showed willingness to want the ball, but they need more time. This is certainly not a good situation to be expecting them to come off the blocks blazing, but results like this would help morale greatly. Things should get better from now on. Finally, I don’t understand why Scholes was playing deep when Hargreaves was there to tidy up things. The defensive midfielder completed another 90 minutes of tidy work and that is encouraging. The respective roles of the midfielders need to be sorted out. Soon.

Coming to the penalty claims, my opinion on the Brown is the same as what has been analysed a million times on Sky’s MOTD. Andy Gray, during the game, sounded strangely excited and was wanting the Brown penalty to be given. Although, no one should be more embarrassed than Alan Hansen who’s article in the Telegraph smacks of bias:

What will stick in the throat of Jol’s supporters is that after what happened at Anfield last Sunday there has been another refereeing decision that has determined the course of an absolutely crucial game. Wes Brown clearly handled the ball. It would have been one thing if Howard Webb had given a penalty but, had he done so, he should also have sent Brown off. If the penalty had been given and Spurs had scored, they would almost certainly have won the game – 1-0 up against 10 men with time running out.

A little wishful thinking eh, Alan? We do understand your beloved Liverpool were hard done by a referee error, but this time round Howard Webb got it spot on. So props to the ref. I am not really sure about the other penalty claim, although, to me it appeared that Vidic’s collision was an honest one and there wasn’t anything malicious to it.

Oh well, at the moment it is the win we need more than anything. So we’ll take it.

Saha and Anderson should hopefully return for the Sunderland game, although, in the case of Saha – a player who has been training for two weeks prior to the match – his not making the bench is most puzzling and frustrating.

The cracks need to be worked on, and one would hope that if we do manage to get past Sunderland in five days time unscathed, then the return of Ronaldo should hopefully boost team confidence and sort out formation once and for all.

Here’s to the comeback kings.

Our Prediction: 2-0, which was wrong, but we did back Nani and Tevez to score. Technically, both of them had parts to play in the goal. 🙂

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