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A Fond Farewell to Fletcher.


It’s with a feeling of regret that I am writing this blog since it has been confirmed that Darren Fletcher has agreed to a move away from Old Trafford after almost twenty years on the United books.

A stalwart for the Red Devils during the heady days of Alex Ferguson through to the present, a player who didn’t always receive the recognition he deserved for his performances in the middle of the park. One thing is for sure the Scot is a fighter in more ways than one and always gave his best for the team.

Born in Dalkeith, Scotland and raised near Edinburgh, Fletcher played his youth football at Hutchison Vale and Tynecastle Boys Club before being scouted by Manchester United and became a young player at United in 1995 at the age of 11.

He was originally lined up as a right midfielder but over time Alex Ferguson and his coaches pulled him into a more central midfield role, progressing well he signed a professional contract on his 17th birthday.

Unfortunately due to a run of injuries his first team debut was behind the originally planned schedule. It eventually came on the 12 March 2003 against Basel in the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League. In the same season Fletcher received the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award.

The following year was his big breakthrough season playing a number of games culminating in a winners medal after United beat Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup final. It wasn’t until the following season that he recorded his first goal in United’s colours. It came in a 2–0 win over Middlesbrough on New Years day at the Riverside Stadium.

Due to the quality in the midfield, which included Keane, Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick and Giggs, the Scots chances were limited over the next few seasons. His one outstanding performance came at Old Trafford in the 7-1 demolition  of Roma in the Champions League quarter-final in 2007.

In 2007-08 Fletcher struggled to find a regular place in the team as players like Anderson and Hargreaves were Fergie’s preferred choice to play in the middle. He made fleeting cameos, most notable in the FA Cup 4th round win over Arsenal, a match in which he scored a double. He received a Champions League winners medal in Moscow as an unused substitute.

Even though only on the fringe of the first team and mainly used as a substitute, Fletcher was rewarded by United with a new three year contract in 2008. Clearly this was a sign that Fergie valued his fellow countryman and did have plans for him.

In the 2008-09 season he managed triple the amount of appearances of the previous campaign, 42, and contributed to the cause with 4 goals. It was in the semi-final 2nd leg of the Champions League against Arsenal that still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Fletcher received a red card in the match and after evidence showed that it was clearly not a sending off offence the club appealed to UEFA asking for the ruling to be overturned, UEFA of course declined to accept the request and United went on to lose the final to Barcelona. Who knows what difference he would have made, but I believe the Barca players were slightly relieved not to see him play.

Fletcher had at last established himself as a first team regular after some serious head down work ethic, the same attitude that would see him through more difficult times in the future. However, for now, he was starting to flourish in the heart of United’s midfield and started to build a great partnership with Michael Carrick.

Over the next two seasons Fletcher played over 75 times for the Red Devils and chipped in with six goals, some of which were vitally important. It also included two Premier League titles and at the end of the campaign he was chosen for the Premier League XI and made club vice-captain.

In 2011 after missing so many matches many of the fans had an inkling that something was seriously wrong with Fletcher. Rumours were ripe, so in November Manchester United decided to reveal the seriousness of his condition.

It was announced that Fletcher had ulcerative colitis and he would be taking an extended break from football following medical advice. A year later, on the 17 January 2013, it was announced that Fletcher had undergone surgery aimed at resolving his condition.

Most were unsure of the severity of the illness and many thought that we had possibly seen the last of the Scot in the game. It was no surprise that his past hard work ethic paid off yet again as the popular midfielder battled his way through the illness and made a complete recovery.

He returned to action to tumultuous applause as a substitute on the 15th December 2013, making his first appearance for nearly a year, when he came on as a substitute for Ryan Giggs in a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa.

That season he went on to make a further 17 appearances, a true testament to the resilience of the player.

In the summer of 2014 it seemed that Fletcher would continue to progress after his illness with the arrival of Louis van Gaal. The new manager quickly let it be known how important he was to the transition of the club by naming Fletcher as vice-captain behind Wayne Rooney.

Following an unbeaten pre-season tour of the USA it was back to England and the start of the new season. Six players had joined the LvG revolution, including three new midfielders Herrera, Blind and record signing Di Maria. Deep down Fletcher must have known that this would limit his chances in the team and that has proven to be the case. Managing only a handful of appearances and relieved of the role of vice-captain the writing was on the wall.

A number of clubs came knocking at the managers door including numerous Premier League sides desperate for the experience that Fletcher would bring them. In the end the level headed Scot chose a move to the midlands to sign for West Bromwich Albion, meaning he could easily commute from his family home. The start of the next chapter in his career has begun.

I wish nothing but the best for Darren Fletcher in his future endeavours and thank him for all he has done in his time at Old Trafford. I’m sure all United fans will give him a standing ovation when he returns to play at the Theatre of Dreams.

Fletcher’s Manchester United honours:

Club app: 342 Goals: 24
Premier League: 5 times winner.
FA Cup: 1
Football League Cup: 2
FA Community Shield: 4
UEFA Champions League: 1
FIFA Club World Cup: 1

Scotland International app: 66 goals: 5

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Man United outgun the Foxes.


Manchester United 3 Leicester City 1

The last time these two sides met it produced a match filled with goals, eight in total, an early entry for goal of the season, defensive mistakes, baffling referee decisions, two penalties, a red card and a win for Leicester City. What would today’s match have install for everyone?

That match was back in September. It was, as van Gaal described it, his darkest moment as manager of Manchester United. Now Leicester are propping up the Premier League and the 5-3 defeat of United seems an age away for the blues, but for United the embarrassment is still fresh in the memory, therefore today was a perfect opportunity to put the record straight.

The last match at Old Trafford was the deflating defeat to Southampton followed by two away games, first came the scrappy win away at QPR then the depressing scoreless draw in the 4th round of the FA Cup at Cambridge. A positive response was needed by the team to lift the fans and themselves.

The main team news prior to the match was of a muscle injury to Michael Carrick, which is likely to sideline him for around four weeks. The United starting XI van Gaal put out comprised of: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Januzaj, Rooney, Di Maria, van Persie and Falcao.

No place for Fellaini, Herrera and Mata who would all start on the bench presumably with one eye on the FA Cup replay coming up in mid week.

The players wore black armbands as a sign of respect for the Munich victims who will be remembered this coming Friday the 6th of February.

As the match got underway Robin van Persie started as brightly as the weather as he tried to latch onto a couple of through balls over the top. In the opening minutes it became obvious that Leicester were more than happy to sit back and let United have the majority of the ball and defend in numbers to limit the amount of chances the home side would have. It was a tactic that seemed to be working.

In the first twenty minutes only a tame effort from Di Maria from outside the box was all United had to show for their possession. Then van Persie had a chance following good work by Luke Shaw who crossed from the left but the Dutchman uncharacteristically totally miscued his shot.

Then in the 27th minute van Persie’s persistence paid off when Blind hit a ball over the top of the defence which the striker did well to hit home first time to put United 1-0 up. A true case of ‘Double Dutch’. The goal seemed to give the home side new found confidence which spurred them on to score again after five minutes.

Robin van Persie turned provider as he laid a delightful pass into Angel Di Maria who let loose a shot which Mark Schwarzer in goal could only parry into the path of an on rushing Falcao who got in-between two defenders to toe poke the ball home from close range. 2-0 ahead and cruising.

Once again Di Maria and Falcao linked up well as they searched for a third goal but unfortunately Di Maria’s final ball to the Colombian was behind him and the move broke down.

A minute before half-time and United won a corner on the left which was taken by Rooney, yes that’s right Rooney not Jones, as the ball came over Blind flicked it on with his head and the unfortunate Wes Morgan managed to put it in his own net.

The end of the first 45 minutes and United were in total control leading 3-0.

As the second half progressed United passed the ball around with ease as Leicester seemed to have given up any hope of getting back into the game. Adnan Januzaj was beginning to shine on the left as in one particular moment he went past ex-red Simpson as if he simply wasn’t there.

Rojo was playing with a growing assurance and Daley Blind hardly put a foot wrong. Blind’s anticipation of the play was outstanding and he was definitely having his best game in a red shirt.

David de Gea had had nothing to do until yet another mistake in a match from Phil Jones who after a poor back pass allowed Leicester striker Ulloa a run on goal. Thankfully the Spanish keeper was alert enough to get a hand to the ball just before the striker could do any damage.

Louis van Gaal showed his intentions on 70 minutes when he replaced van Persie for defender Paddy McNair, a clear sign that he wanted to sit on the 3-0 lead. Then Valencia made room for Mata and Wilson came on for the remaining ten minutes at the expense of goalscorer Falcao.

Then as United were coasting Leicester scored a consolation goal in the 80th minute when Wasilewski headed in at the far post from a Drinkwater cross. I’m certain van Gaal will be less than pleased with the lack of marking to allow the visitors their only goal from their only attempt on target.

United offered little in the way of chances with the only clear opportunity falling to the record signing Di Maria who did all the hard work to put himself in a great scoring position then inexplicable ballooned the ball way high.

It ended in a 3-1 run of the mill win for United and a valuable three points which moves them up into third place in the league.

Many positives can be taken from the match. For example the displays of Blind, Rojo, Di Maria and Falcao, and the two strikers scored a goal apiece. Having said that, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t go for the kill in the second half to cement our total dominance of a poor visiting team.

The match was won in the first 45 minutes, but I would have liked United to have stepped up a gear and not let Leicester have any glimmer of hope. At times the reds were a little too complacent and against stronger sides we will be made to pay.

On a side note with Carrick out for the next month I wonder why van Gaal went with Januzaj and not Herrera in the midfield diamond formation. A role which I believe the Spaniard is better suited to more so than the Belgian youngster, who once again let the game go on around him without stamping any authority on the play.

The transfer window has been relatively quiet with more activity on the exit door than the entry. Long serving Scot Darren Fletcher looks set to complete a move to West Ham after giving his best years to United, Brazillian Anderson is likely to put an end to his misery with a move home to Internacional and Ben Amos has joined Bolton on a month loan. As regards players in, at the time of writing, only defender Sadiq El Fitouri has been signed from Salford City.

Even though Louis van Gaal stated in his press conference that no new players will be signed in this transfer window the rumours surrounding an offer for German international Mats Hummels still persist as do the reports still linking David de Gea with Real Madrid, the sooner we tie the keeper down to a new contract the better.

Next up is the FA Cup replay with the visit to Old Trafford of Cambridge United who fully deserve their moment in the spotlight, but that’s all it should be, a moment. I fully expect United to knock them out convincingly and set out a marker that the side want to win the oldest cup competition. With the teams that are still involved, or more to the point not involved, the cup is United’s best chance of silverware. Here’s hoping the team and the manager feel the same.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Man United edge past gritty Yeovil.


Yeovil Town 0 Manchester United 2

 

The last time Manchester United won the oldest cup competition in world football was back in 2004. On that day only one player from the present United squad collected a winners medal, Darren Fletcher. Other players in the side have won it with other teams including Robin van Persie (Arsenal 2005 vs Man Utd) and Juan Mata (Chelsea 2012)

So, for most of the players facing Yeovil Town today this was new territory. A walk around the museum at Old Trafford would enlighten the players as to how United hold this cup close to their hearts. Sharing the record with Arsenal of 11 wins. Sure the Champions League has taken over as the most prestigious cup competition in football, but there is something special about the FA cup that will never die.

The romance of the competition continued this season as United were picked to play away at Yeovil Town from League 1. David versus Goliath.  However, on this occasion David failed to defeat the giant that is Man United.

The last time these two teams met was also in the FA Cup in 1949. The match was played at Maine Road, Man City’s old stadium, as Old Trafford was still undergoing refurbishment after the WWII bombings. United won comfortably 8-0 with Jack Rowley scoring five in front of over 81,000 spectators.

The team news showed that Louis van Gaal was taking the match seriously. DeGea, Smalling, McNair, Blackett, Rafael, Fletcher, Herrera, Rooney, Shaw, Wilson and Falcao. A strong side with Di Maria and Mata on the bench.  James Wilson was chosen ahead of van Persie to lead the attack alongside Falcao. Rooney continued his stint in midfield alongside Fletcher. Michael Carrick was given a well earned rest.

Yeovil spent the first 10 minutes trying to bully the United players and remind them that this was an FA cup tie. De Gea was clattered in the first seconds and Luke Shaw took a blow to the head as did Rafael. This was starting out to be a bruising affair. United’s first effort came from McNair who tried his luck from outside the area but skyed his shot high.

There were 2,025 United away fans, out of around 9,000 in total, crammed into the small ground, who were continually singing and trying to spur the team on. Unfortunately to little effect.
As usual this season, United took their time getting into any sort of rhythm. After 14 minutes Rooney did try a curler but misjudged his shot after nice interplay with Wilson. Chris Smalling spent the first quarter of an hour trying to set a record of hoofing the ball out of the ground.

Yeovil’s plan was to put high balls into the United area knowing how poorly United’s defence have performed this season. A succession of Yeovil corners gave the Red Devils a few headaches, literally for McNair after a nasty clash of heads with Yeovil’s Moore, but generally they defended them well, even Falcao came back to help out. McNair needed treatment to his head wound which included staples to close the cut.

This was turning out to be a real cup tie with the United defence gifting corners, Herrera and Fletcher made some errant passes, and the side were not creating anything in the attacking third. Darren Fletcher wasn’t keen to get stuck in and his passing was that of a man who knows his career is coming to an end. Blackett was showning no urgency in his play strolling around the defence. Generally the first 30 minutes was poor from United.

Just afer the half hour Herrera played a great ball to Wilson, who should have done better with his effort. His poor shot summed up the start for United. This was confounded a few minutes before half time when Herrera himself had a woeful effort well wide of the goal.

A first half that lacked conviction from Man United. Again performing poorly away from home and making the bottom of the League 1 side look better than they are. Careless passing from the midfielders mixed with poor concentration, and again no confidence in the defence. At no point did United force the Yeovil keeper, Steer, into a save. This was an embarrasing 45 minutes in which United looked more intimidated than the home side.

Changes would have to be made at half time by van Gaal or it could turn out to be another MK Dons nightmare. The substitutions were made at the beginning of the second half, not for tactical reasons, but as we would find out after the match due to even more injuries.

Juan Mata and Jonny Evans replaced the wing backs Shaw and Rafael. This means that in one week we have lost four players who play in those positions: Young and Valencia and now Shaw and Rafael. A nightmare scenerio.

The first job Evans had to do was to clear his lines after a Yeovil cross into the box. Again rather shaky defending gave Yeovil the impetus to attack. Their forward Moore had a great chance to put the hosts in the lead, but luckily for United fluffed his shot by underhitting it straight to a grateful David de Gea, by far the best chance of the match after 55 minutes.

Another change was made by van Gaal on 58 minutes. Enter Angel di Maria for Radamel Falcao. Falcao had had a tough time and didn’t really have any chances. United needed pace up front as the Yeovil players understandably started to tire and they would have trouble keeping up with the pace of di Maria and Wilson.

Then in the 64th minute Herrera scored a wonderful goal. Rooney started the move by squaring the ball to Fletcher, who in turn nearly lost possession, but the ball came to Herrera prowling on the edge of the area, with his back to goal he turned and hit a delightful shot into the top corner from 20 yards, a brilliant strike and exactly what United needed to relax. The one downside was that Herrera was booked for over celebrating with the away fans.

The goal seemed to give United the lift they needed. Rooney fired a free kick just over. At the other end di Maria cleared an effort off the line following a Yeovil corner. It was all for one as United hung on for the win.

On 75 minutes Rooney had another chance from a McNair cross, but couldn’t do much with it. Di Maria also tried his luck from way outside the area but pulled the ball well wide of the goal.

Angel di Maria finally settled the tie in injury time, The Argentinian added the second as he raced onto a through ball and gave the keeper no chance when one on one by chipping a shot into the net. Breaking brave Yeovil’s hearts.

United were playing against a side 60 odd places below them in the league, but all credit to Yeovil for a gritty and valliant effort. In no way did they let themselves or their club down. It was definitely not a walk in the park for van Gaal’s men.

On the way back to Manchester Louis van Gaal has to convince the directors to give their rubber stamp on any new player, or players, he requires. Quite clearly some more new additions are needed if United want to move forward in 2015. Time and again I’ve said that our defence is a shambles, I understand we didn’t concede today and are now unbeaen in 11 matches, but some of our players out there were so very ordinary.

It was another disaster on the injury front with a possible fractured cheekbone for Rafael and an ankle injury to Luke Shaw. This is why they were both replaced at half-time. Both players having only returned in the last week after lengthy spells on the sidelines. I can’t remember a season that’s been as bad as this one for injuries. I hate using the word unlucky, but it is just that.

The positive from today is that we are in the draw for the 4th round tomorrow. The way our away form has been lately I’m praying for a home tie.

Next week it’s back to the Premier League as United welcome Southampton to Old Trafford. Who knows, by the time we next play we could have some new players on the books. God knows with the injury list and unconvincing performances from some players we need them.

Until next time.

Miles Dunton.

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