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Rooney at the double.

Manchester United 2 Sunderland 0

‘We cannot deny that at this moment we don’t have a striker who scores 20 goals in the season.’ These were the words uttered by Louis van Gaal prior to the match against Sunderland at Old Trafford.

Well, the truth is he does have that striker right under his nose, Wayne Rooney, who proved yet again that his best position in the side is up front where his goal scoring talents belong. His performance against Sunderland should be enough for the manager to keep him there. However, with van Gaal you never know.

After the disappointment of last weeks defeat in Wales, it was back to Old Trafford and the visit of the Black Cats from the North East. Now we enter into the last 12 matches of the Premier League so it was critical to start on another unbeaten run of matches.

There had been some bad and good news on the injury front during the build up to the match with Robin van Persie’s ankle injury expected to keep him out for the next few weeks but on the positive side Michael Carrick was training again and was to be included in the squad.

Louis van Gaal’s main headache with the team selection was who he would use in the attack as many fans were calling for a Rooney and Wilson strikeforce with others in the Rooney and Falcao corner. In the end, the manager went for the latter.

United’s starting eleven: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Herrera, Young, Di Maria, Rooney and Falcao. Subs: Lindegaard, McNair, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Januzaj and Wilson. This side meant five changes for United, with Valencia, Smalling, Evans, Young & Falcao all returning to the side and Fellaini dropped to the bench.

Ander Herrera was most definitely back in the good books as he started yet again but there was not such good news for Juan Mata who has now not started a league game for six weeks, when he was hauled off at half-time against QPR.

It would be interesting to see how United’s two center backs Evans and Smalling would perform after coming under scrutiny so many times this season

United started the match attacking the Scoreboard End and facing two former reds in the Sunderland defence Wes Brown and John O’Shea.

Ashley Young started brightly down the left trying his luck with a few early crosses which resulted in a couple of corners the last of which taken by Di Maria was met by Rooney with his head but lacked both power and accuracy.

On 5 minutes Sunderland broke through the middle with Wickham who was allowed without challenge to take the ball a long way into United’s half and let fly with a shot that David de Gea thankfully pushed away for a corner.

Shortly afterwards, Rooney gave the ball away deep in his own half and Defoe pounced and tried his luck from distance thankfully it was nowhere near the target. Yet again poor passing and a lack of defensive cohesion in the opening ten minutes made Sunderland look better than they really are and gave them a foothold in the match.

In the 12th minute Falcao made a good claim for a penalty after he seemed to be shoved to the ground inside the area but referee Roger East waved play on and as the ball was cleared Young hit a thunderous volley which went wide but deserved better.

Rooney and Falcao were simply not on the same wavelength as a couple of touches they attempted to each other came to nothing. At one point in the opening exchanges, Falcao was bustled off the ball from which Defoe was given yet another sight of goal this time he was on target but the impressive de Gea was equal to it.

The most infuriating aspect of the game in the early stages was that all the visitors chances originated from United’s mistakes and the errors were really basic in nature.

After 19 minutes, it was the turn of Di Maria to misplace a pass straight into the path of the Sunderland attackers which amounted to nothing serious in the end but that’s not the point. It’s worrying having the defence make mistakes without our world class talent joining in.

As the game evolved you could see that Wes Brown had Falcao totally in his pocket and was marshaling the Colombian well.

At last in the 27th minute a great move down the right started by Di Maria when he played the ball out wide to Antonio Valencia who in turn lashed in a wicked cross which was met at the far post by the impressive Young who let fly with a shot that O’Shea managed to get a touch on and in doing so diverted the ball onto the crossbar and out of danger.

Now United started to get going mainly through Di Maria who won a free-kick 30 yards out which he elected to take himself but ended up going too high over the bar. This season United’s set pieces have been really terrible with the record signing being the biggest culprit.

Ashley Young was the star of the half and went close with a typical right footed curler in the 34th minute.

In the 37th minute, another free-kick and this time Rooney fancied his luck but it was easily turned over for a corner by keeper Pantilimon. From the resulting corner, Rojo had a snapshot which almost found it’s way through to goal.

Five minutes from half-time and again great work from Young as he crossed low into the box to exactly where Falcao should have been but for some reason the Colombian had run backwards away from the play and the hard work of Young was wasted.

A break from Di Maria in the dying moments of the half ended with the Argentinian electing to pass to Falcao which was a mistake as he should have picked out Young who was totally unmarked inside the box, yet again a poor selection from Di Maria which has been the story of his play of late.

Brown and O’Shea must have been very pleased how the half ended after they had not allowed Rooney and especially Falcao a clear chance on goal proving that experience, not class can win matches.

Half time and at 0-0 it had been another disappointing display from United with a lack of imagination in their game. Everything smacked of desperation which led to panic moments which in turn gave the visitors more chances than they could have believed they would have had.

Falcao spent most of the first half on his backside after being brushed off the ball far too easily and his positioning play was woeful. The only positive was the performance of Ashley Young who tried to instill some urgency into the attacks and was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet.

A quiet crowd as there was really nothing to cheer about even though they did try to rally the team by shouting Attack! Attack! Attack! but that clearly wasn’t heard by the players.

Louis van Gaal decided to make a change at the start of the second half by bringing on Adnan Januzaj in place of Angel Di Maria. After under performing in his previous outings, this was a great opportunity for the Belgian to prove his worth.

Right from the start Jonny Evans put a stop to a Sunderland break in the first minute by sticking out his foot just at the right time.

Blind started a good passing move straight down the middle exchanging one-twos with Herrera and Rooney eventually the move broke down but it showed the quality that Blind has as he quietly goes about his job in midfield.

In the 52nd minute there was a move that summed up United’s lack of communication as there was a rare misunderstanding between Young and Rojo as the England international played a ball to the space on his left where he thought his colleague would be running into but Rojo had in fact stopped running completely.

After an hour of play van Gaal had seen enough of Falcao and ordered his second Belgian substitute Fellaini to warm up. As he was doing this Valencia won a free kick on the right that Rooney swung over and it was headed clear only to the waiting Januzaj who connected really well but couldn’t keep it on target, better from United.

Then in the 63rd minute the complexion of the game changed completely. As Falcao, who was about to be taken off, turned well in the area but was impeded by both Wes Brown and John O’Shea which resulted in a penalty.

Afer a comical few minutes Wes Brown was given his marching orders but took a long time to leave the pitch as he argued correctly that it was, in fact, his defensive partner John O’shea who had committed the foul, not him.

Some two minutes later captain Rooney stepped up and blasted the ball into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.

That was the last action Falcao would see as he was hooked off by van Gaal and replaced with Fellaini. Apart from winning the penalty he had done absolutely nothing of worth and I will be surprised if he is not sent back to Monaco at the end of this season unless he starts contributing more to the team.

Good old Ashley Young was still running his socks off down the left-hand side and pinging crosses over into the danger area one of which Januzaj was unlucky not to connect with properly. If any player deserved a goal or assist it was Young.

Leading 1-0 and playing against ten men United started to play with less panic and more confidence by passing the ball around well and in the 72nd minute it almost opened up for Fellaini but he blasted the ball high and wide.

In the following ten minutes, United had corners, free-kicks and crosses to try their luck with but nobody could find the direction to trouble the keeper. Both Smalling and Rojo tried with their heads but to no avail.

On many occasions, Januzaj had the chance to provide telling crosses but selected to shoot from tight angles which clearly infuriated his forwards. He should watch and learn from the likes of Young who had spent all the match trying to set up his teammates rather than chase glory.

The second goal came in the 84th minute when Wayne Rooney scored his second by latching on to a rebound off the keeper with his head from close range after one of those shots by Januzaj. 2-0 and no way back for Sunderland.

With that in mind van Gaal brought on Mata for goal hero Rooney for the last five minutes with one eye on the Newcastle match in midweek.

In the dying seconds, the whole ground thought that Herrera had added a third after Fellaini had missed a great chance but as the ball was put back into the area the Spaniard was just offside. Unlucky for Herrera as that goal would have kept up his good recent scoring record.

In the end a win and three very valuable points gained by United who temporarily moved up into third place in the league. This was a match which on paper seemed fairly straight forward but due to the home team’s own mistakes wasn’t. Until the penalty decision it was difficult to see where the goals would come from.

The United players seem shackled and lack the ability to express themselves and play with a freedom that would rip opposing teams apart. Maybe when they have the guarantee of Champions League football under their belt they will be released from the tactical responsibilities and finish the season in true style, we can only hope.

If man of the match Ashley Young and captain Wayne Rooney can keep fit and continue in this vein for the run in then United have a chance to finish in one of the Champions League places. The brace were Rooney’s first Premier League goals in 2015 and at last he’s back in the position where he is the most dangerous but for how long only the manager knows.

Next up is a tricky away trip to St James’ Park to take on Newcastle United on Wednesday evening but with Rooney firing again I fully expect United to grab all three points as he has an impressive record against the Magpies having netted 11 times in 18 matches.

Then it’s the return of the FA Cup and a big chance to pile the misery on Arsenal who looked terrible against Monaco in the Champions League. It was very pleasing to see former Red Devil Dimitar Berbatov grab a goal against the Gunners in that match.

Thanks again for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | Facebook Twitter


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Man United didn’t rule Britannia.

Stoke City 1 Manchester United 1

Man United started the New Year as they had ended the last one by only managing a draw away from home.

The last time we visited the Potteries was a 1-2 loss back in February. How times have changed. New manager and new players, third in the league and unbeaten in the last nine games. Things were definitely looking up for the Red Devils as we entered 2015.

The Britannia Stadium has always been a tricky place to get results and today was no different, as the wind blew across the pitch making high balls hard to defend. Former United favourite Mark Hughes had the extra height of Peter Crouch in attack to cause havoc with the ball in the air. This was going to be a real test for United’s defenders

Man Utd’s starting eleven brought a recall for Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling to the starting line up in place of Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair. The team: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Carrick, Young, Rooney, Mata, Shaw, Falcao, van Persie.

When the team was announced I cringed at the thought of Smalling, Jones and Evans together at the back, as something usually goes wrong, and after only 1 minute 45 seconds it did just that.

From a corner Crouch, unchecked in the box, rose to head towards goal, it was smacked into the net by Shawcross. The worst possible start for United as the defenders were found napping in the box. Van Gaal had said before the match that he wanted his players to dream of matches beforehand, here they were actually sleeping during play.

United must have known about the threat Stoke posed from set pieces, why they had so many players in the box doing nothing was totally unacceptable. I guarantee van Gaal, the perfectionist, was seething on the touchline that his side had conceded such an early goal in that manner.

It took 8 mins for United to win their first corner, but the delivery by Mata was not good enough, and Begovic collected easily. The second corner from Mata had exactly the same result. He again took the responsibility to take the third corner, which again was poor.

When you have an opposition keeper as tall as Begovic, what is the point of lofting crosses into the box that he’s going to eat up all day. I remember a time when Robin van Persie was taking the corners on the right in his first season with better results.

The uneasiness in the United side was summed up on the quarter hour by an over hit pass down the wing from Young which was meant for Falcao. Young is best suited playing on the left as has been proved with this match and the away match at Villa. he is quite simply wasted on the right.

United won a free kick on the edge of the Stoke area which Rooney took control of, but his effort was high and and not so handsome. You began to get that feeling it clearly was going to be one of those unfortunate days. Not much was going right for the team in blue.

The first mistake from Evans was on 18 minutes. He was out hustled and bustled off the ball by former red Diouf. Luckilly for Evans, Diouf pulled his effort wide when he should have done a lot better. Maybe David de Gea’s performances made him panic into shooting too early. That was big let off for Evans and the team. This is not the first time Evans has put the team in danger this season, and I have to question his reliability.

United’s equaliser came in the 26th minute when a Rooney corner from the left was heade on by Carrick’s through to Falcao, who swept the ball into the net. A goal from nothing but welcome all the same. That was Falcao’s third goal for United, and it came at a perfect time in the game.

After the goal United started to take control of the game more. The only real threat from Stoke came from the height of Crouch, and that unforgiving wind. Stoke had a slight chance as an inswinger from their left confused all in the penalty area until Shaw miskicked the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

The Stoke keeper Begovic angered van Persie by showing his studs as he kicked out his leg in the Dutchman’s direction. Van Persie was rightly incensed, but the referee Michael Oliver and his assistant didn’t see what happened. On closer inspection Begovic was lucky he didn’t make contact with the forward or it could have been very nasty indeed.

The away fans were in fine voice out singing the home fans who had long given up booing United’s every touch of the ball.The first half ended all square at 1-1.

The second half got under way with no changes in the United side. With Young still on the right and Shaw on the left you got the feeling that United were going to struggle to create chances. Stoke were closing down quickly and our midfield trio of Carrick, Rooney and Mata failed to stamp their authority on the game. Poor passing and dwelling too long on the ball gave Stoke a self belief, and they started to play the better football.

United had a look of uncertainty about their play and really needed to have a spell of keeping the ball, but Stoke were not giving them any time to settle into a rhythm. Just after the hour mark, van Gaal made a double change. Bringing on Ander Herrera and Adnan Januzaj for Falcao and Shaw. I totally understood the confused way Falcao looked as he was substituted. Not sure why he was the fall guy when others around him were just as equally under performing.

There was a moment of controversy after Jones had headed behind from a Stoke cross. From the resulting corner the ball struck Smalling on the arm, as the home fans screamed for a penalty the ref waved play on. A minute later the same thing happened to Smalling again, once more Michael Oliver angered the locals by showing no interest in their claims for a penalty.

From the resulting clearance, United  broke down the left only for Januzaj opting to shoot when a cross would have been the wiser choice. Shortly after, van Persie nearly managed to convert a lobbed shot, but sadly for him pulled it wide.

Crouch was causing all sorts of problems for United. In a two minute spell Stoke hit the post and Diouf had a blast from the edge of the box, which only just flew over the crossbar.

This was proving to be a tough New Years Day for the visitors. There was no urgency in our play and no chances were being created. Then, as Young galloped away on a counter attack, he pulled up sharply with what looked to be a hamstring problem. This meant that Rafael made it on in Young’s place. Another injury to add to the list.

In the last 20 mins United had their own appeal for a penalty waved away, when Rafael looked as if he had been impeded. Maybe the referee was addressing the balance. When Januzaj did deliver a cross from the left, van Persie just couldn’t quite convert it at the near post.

United finished the match on the attack with a flurry of corners and crosses, which in the end didn’t result in any clear cut chances to grab a winner. It ended all square. Our poor performance made Stoke look the better side in the second half.

This was not the type of start to 2015 that everyone expected from Manchester United. It meant that van Gaal was still waiting for his ‘perfect’ match. From the look of things it will be a long time before he gets it. The side were short of ideas and lacked the balance from the last few weeks.

Valencia was missed today, as when he and Young played out wide there was a cohesion in the side. Now that Young and Valencia will be missing for the foreseeable future the need for other players to return is imperative. We desperately need Di Maria and Blind to make a speedy return and start winning again. On a positive note, United are now unbeaten in the last ten games.

The transfer window opens this weekend and as I’ve said many times this season the defence is our biggest problem area. We desperately need someone at the back with the experience to bring stability. How many points have been dropped by our inept defenders? To say that Smalling was the best defender on show today doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Smalling, Jones and Evans are our own ‘Bermuda Triangle’ as strange things happen when their together.

Next up for United is the 3rd of the FA Cup in which they will face League 1 outfit Yeovil Town. The main hope is that van Gaal approaches the match differently to the loss against MK Dons back at the start of the season. I’m hoping for a good cup run as it could be our only realistic chance of silverware this season. The last time we lifted the old trophy was back in 2004, so it’s well overdue.

United have faced Yeovil twice before, both matches in the FA Cup. The first was at Old Trafford in the 1937-38 season in the 3rd round that was won by United 3-0. The second match was in the 1948-49 season. This time it was in the 5th round. United played the match at Manchester City’s ground, Maine Road. United netted 8 goals without reply. Incredibly the attendance that day was 81,565, amazing.

The first match of 2015 has ended rather disappointingly, but there is still a lot to look forward to, I’m sure.

Thanks for checking out my thoughts.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter


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Man United held by ten man Villa.

Aston Villa1 Manchester United 1

Villa Park is a stadium which holds fond memories for the United team and the fans. Throughout our history it has been a happy hunting ground, as we have enjoyed many glorious matches there. Who can forget the scenes that followed the ‘goal of the century’ by Ryan Giggs in the FA Cup semi final replay against Arsenal in 1999, on the way to the historic ‘treble’

You have to go all the back to the opening day of the 1995-96 season, for the last time Villa won against United at home. That day Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, featuring youngsters such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, went down 3-1 in a result which prompted BBC pundit Alan Hansen to famously utter this classic comment: “You don’t win anything with kids.” How wrong he was proved to be.

The Manchester United team news, which didn’t include any kids, had Louis van Gaal giving a start to Falcao up front, but more surprising was the choice of Darren Fletcher in midfield. This was due to undisclosed illnesses to Fellaini and Herrera.

Michael Carrick started the match in the middle of a back three along with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in front of recent hero David de Gea. Then there was Young and Valencia out wide with Fletcher and Rooney in the middle, Mata sat in the hole behind the strikers Falcao and Robin van Persie. On the bench were two players coming back from injury Angel Di Maria and Da Silva.

United enjoyed the majority of possession in the early exchanges without creating any clear chances, but unfortunately Villa took the lead on 17 minutes, when from a free kick Benteke chested down in the penalty area, then without a serious challenge from the United defence, shimmied and curled a left footed shot across three United players and past de Gea, who to be fair didn’t stand a chance. A goal against the run of play, but a warning that this wasn’t going to go all United’s way.

Villa showed that they had the pace up front to worry the United defenders and on one such break their forwards were bearing down on goal, but without a brilliant tackle from Jonny Evans it could have been a lot worse for United.

On the half hour, Young nearly shoved the boos back down the Villans throats, when his curling shot come cross almost sneaked in at the far post if it hadn’t been for Villa keeper Guzan managing to palm it to safety.

United’s attacking play cried out for some invention as it was all so predictable, lots of the ball but no imagination, it was crying out for someone to work some magic. Sadly not many magicians were on show.

Falcao’s first chance came on 23 minutes when he was played through by van Persie, in the end he shot tamely under pressure. The best play was coming from United’s right flank via Valencia, but the Villa defence dealt with any crosses that came over. It was a poor first 45 minutes for the Red Devils, and even though they had the ball in dangerous areas they had nothing to show for it.

At the start of the second half it was no great surprise to see van Gaal make a change by bringing on Tyler Blackett for Fletcher. This meant that Carrick moved up into his preferred midfield role.
Right from the off the United back three, without Carrick marshaling them, were in trouble as the trio of Blackett, Jones and Evans struggled to deal with Benteke, Jones just managing to block his shot. From the resulting corner de Gea made an important tip over from a Benteke header.

On the 50th minute van Persie forced a save from Guzan as United tried to convert their chances. The main objective, apart from equalising, was to keep the ball away from United’s defence.

The pressure paid off in the 53rd minute when Young made a surge down the left and delivered a superb pinpoint cross, a cross which Falcao met with his head to give the keeper no chance. In a rare show of emotion van Gaal punched the air with delight as Falcao raced to share his joy with the away fans. After the equaliser came a push by United to find a quick goal and van Persie came closest with an overhead attempt.

On the hour mark came United’s second substitution with Di Maria, making his return from injury, replacing van Persie. Straight away Di Maria was pressing forward and had three rather tame shots on goal, unfortunately all were easily dealt with by Guzan in the Villa goal.

Then on 64 minutes the match heated up as Agbonlahor was red carded for a foul on Young. He had a case for protesting as the replays showed it was a 50/50 challenge, but the referee decided he had gone over the top on Young. This not only left Villa down to ten men, but the boos for Young reached new decibels every time he touched the ball.

The 73rd minute saw another change as James Wilson was brought on for Antonio Valencia. Young was switched to the right and Di Maria patrolled the left wing. A decision I didn’t understand as the balance of the team would have been better served with Valencia staying on as he had been performing well down the right flank. In contrast to Young who was having a torrid time with the Villa fans, and to take him out of that atmosphere would have made sense. This was proven by the numerous opportunities he had to put in crosses from the right wing, but his deliveries on many attempts were below standard compared to his cross for Falcao’s goal.

United had a flurry of corners and saw one cause confusion in the Villa box, but Falcao just couldn’t reach the ball in time before it was put out of play by the Villa defence. Towards the end of the match Villa came the closest to snatching the winner with a strike from Bacuna that just flew over a relieved de Gea’s crossbar. At the other end Wilson had a lovely effort in the last minute but it lacked any power, how sweet that would have been for the youngster to grab the winner and the headlines.

Once again United toiled in a game that they should have won fairly easily bearing in mind Villa’s injury list, and the fact that they were playing against ten men for the last twenty minutes. Only getting into their groove after the half time change, which saw Fletcher depart and Carrick moved into the middle. Carrick showing once again how brilliant the new vice captain has been since returning from injury. He adapted so easily to the change in the system during the match. It’s no great surprise that the team has still not lost this season when he has been in the side.

Darren Fletcher looked out of sorts in the middle of the park. and he didn’t help himself by giving away the free kick that led to the Villa opener. Having been stripped of the vice captaincy in favour of Carrick you have to wonder how he fits into van Gaal’s future plans, if at all. He only started the match as both Fellaini and Herrera were not well enough to play. Fletcher has given the club great service over the last ten or so seasons, and has overcome a serious illness to get back into the team; however, in all fairness to him, if all the midfielders were fit he probably wouldn’t get a look in.

This was a case of two points dropped at the end of the day. A few months ago I never thought I would be saying this, but our midfield missed Fellaini’s presence, and I thought Mata had his first poor match for a while. Having said all that, after six straight wins, a draw away from home is not the end of the world, and compared to when things were not going United’s way at the beginning of the season this has been a good few weeks for the red devils. We are now unbeaten in the last seven games. The team, under van Gaal’s leadership, is still moving in the right direction and remain in third place.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Newcastle United on Boxing day quickly followed two days later by United’s last match of 2014, an away trip to the capital to take on Spurs. I fully expect United to end the year with two more wins that will send us flying into 2015.

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and thanks for all your continued support by reading my pages.

Miles Dunton.


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