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Reds 1-0 Sunderland: The Late Late Match Report

Manchester United Crest  Sunderland Club Crest

For those interested, MOTD highlights is up on the stats page.

I am sure certain sections of regulars to this site might have been left wondering what really is up with the lazy author of this site. Admittedly there was a little slacking off from your’s truly. After all, waking up late, groggy-eyed, on a Sunday morning – when the lethargy was only mildly nudged out of the system while watching Villa beat Chelsea – should be enough cause for feeling generally happy through the rest of the day and forgetting one’s blogging commitments.

Anyhow, apologies. Here’s getting back to business…

The Sunderland game was significant for us, as United fans, due to a multitude of reasons. From the Guard of Honour for Ole, to Keano’s homecoming, to our need to be getting into some kind of a winning rhythm – thus building up some momentum, going into the game with Chelsea later this month – the match was extremely important. Also, it was the last game before we welcome Ronaldo back into our side to give us the much needed cutting edge and imagination we seem to be lacking in our final third, so far this season.

Also, all eyes were nervously awaiting the return of a long-gone, much-ridiculed, almost forgotten striker in Louis Saha. Even the fact that he did make it to the bench gave most of us a sense of relief – that there is someone genuinely capable of doing something when he comes off the bench. The sight of Anderson alongside Tevez gave us another feeling that we might get to see Tevez create more that he has done so far this season.

Those were our pre-match expectations. The match however started in a familiar breath. We hogged all the possession, made elaborate build-ups, made what seemed to be incisive forays, without really creating anything. Progressively, as the game went on the all-too familiar build-ups started getting worrying. At least in the past – against Reading, Portsmouth and Man City – we looked like we were going to score any moment. But on this occasion, there were hardly moments where we looked like carving out anything productive.

Tevez, once again, impressed with his work-rate but seemed to be unavailable whenever there was a ball played into the box that required the presence of a poacher of some sort. I have always been stubbornly against the signing a target-man (ever since we bought Tevez) despite seeing the obvious absence of that kind of a player, and plenty of fans demanding the signing of a target man. My reasons were more to do with the effect it could have in our side’s morale. Of course, a stop-gap arrangement would have suited me just fine, but then even he would need to be bedded into the side. It is a bad enough situation to be in, but that is how things have turned out, and a little patience in our transfer strategy as far as selling Smith and Rossi went, would have been a better idea. Anyway, I digressed a lot, but that about summed up our tepid first half.

The second half saw the introduction of Saha in the place of Anderson, who had a very quiet debut. The only highlight of Anderson’s debut was a weighted pass in the path of Tevez who blasted it with his first touch. Gordon held it comfortably. Saha’s introduction brought about a marked change. For the first time this season, we seemed to be winning headers from crosses. Okay, scratch that out. For the first time, we saw our wingers seem more confident about crossing the ball. They started bombing the ball in more often. Saha’s movement, ability to hold the ball and win headers created problems for the defence, which, until then, was well shepherded by Nosworthy and co.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait too long, when, in the 72nd minute, Saha headed in a Nani corner. He did well to force himself towards the ball, and mainly, jumped well. The ball, of course, hit the back of his head and went into the net, but that didn’t stop the Old Trafford crowd from erupting. Saha’s return, his goal, and that it was scored off his head could be some kind of a statement made to Fergie and co. that if we intend to win something this season, we must have several options of breaking down the opposition.

Anyway, the players went mad celebrating and pointing in the direction of the scorer, in case we had a doubt. What was worth noting about this celebration, and previous ones, was the ability of Ferdinand to magically materialise before the scorer and be the first to congratulate him. If it was a race, and there were points for that, Ferdinand would ace it. At least, he had the good sense of not jumping on Saha – fragile as he is.

Speaking of which, Saha has now declared that he knows how to avoid his injuries. Hopefully Fergie awards his new found enlightenment with a fortune cookie.

Anyway, well done Saha. The international break comes at the right time for him to get fitter – as long as that nut-job Raymond Domenech does not call him over.

Back to the match, there wasn’t too much forthcoming after the goal, apart from some late chances from Fletcher and Hargreaves. Earlier, Giggs was missing from the starting line-up with a hamstring strain and Eagles was preferred instead. Granted, Fletcher was a better player, but I personally laud Fergie for his faith in the young ones. Eagles, of course, was out of his depth, but the outing in this kind of a situation would have done him a world of good.

There were, of course, lots of things that were not right about this match. United’s passing was terrible. Balls were given far too often. If there was one thing Roy Keane would have done if he was captaining the team on the pitch, it would be skinning each and every player that gave the ball away. Meaning, he would have had a lot of work to do. Some of the passing were jokes. Wes Brown, while defensively fine, never seemed comfortable going forward.

But thankfully, there were positives from the other side. Evra was simply magnificient. The number of times he bombed forward showed the wingers what they weren’t doing. It also showed us how much we were missing Neville on the right. Of course, his return is not going to guarantee the surging runs of old, we’ve so grown used to seeing. He is ageing and we need someone who can show some initiative. I am not yet prepared to fault Brown, because, for all his failings going forward, he is solid in the tackle and that would be useful in Europe. Evra has also improved in his defensive awareness, and he’s shown ample amount of that with a couple of savage tackles.

Paul Scholes was good. He wasn’t at his best, but good enough. He was in the box more often than Tevez. Hargreaves has seamlessly integrated into our side, and he’s a quiet operator who can, at times, unleash powerful volleys. His tackling is clean, and that says a lot about his positioning. All in all, our best purchase so far. Nani is integrating well. His outrageous skill is not in question. All he needs to work on, is his decision making. That will take time, and, in a way, it is a blessing that Nani was forced into the side with all the injuries and suspensions. He will only improve, and we need to be patient with him and Anderson.

Michael Carrick showed his displeasure at not being brought in ahead of Fletcher and O’Shea. I was genuinely disappointed with his reaction. While it is okay for a player to feel bad at not being allowed to play, I would expect him to show more fight in the training ground and force his way into the side. Not show his petulance. O’Shea and Fletcher, while being relatively limited players, have earned their runs in the side with their hard work. Carrick’s recent performances weren’t particularly spectacular, and if this small kick up the arse by Fergie spurs him on (no pun intended), then it will be better for the side. I just hope I am not making too much of all this.

Keano was cheered by everyone in the crowd, and he acknowledged that with a wave. Things have been a little rocky for him this season, but we hope he bounces back and proves the doubters wrong. Here’s wishing a successful season to him and Sunderland.

To sum-up, what has been a long drawn match report, United’s win was relieving, once again. But the cracks are still apparent. We have Everton, who are certainly no mugs and are doing pretty well at the moment. They are also a dogged side. Sporting Lisbon should be another testing game, followed by the biggest test we will face, Chelsea.

As an aside, Chelsea’s slip against Villa didn’t surprise me too much because, as I’d said in an earlier article, teams have improved vastly, and even the so-called Big Four will drop points. It will be a much closer title race, and we should be there and thereabouts when points are there for the taking.


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