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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 Utd’s FA Cup bore draw.


Cambridge United 0 Manchester United 0

An FA Cup 4th round tie between two sides, one of which is struggling in their league to find any cohesion and rhythm and with no realistic chance of ending the season as champions, the other was Cambridge United.

There was a big question following the victory over QPR last week. Would Louis van Gaal succumb to the shouts of the fans and keep a back four or prove his stubbornness and start with his favourite 3-5-2 system?

Van Gaal admitted this week that he was ‘twitching his ass’ when watching his side play the 4-4-2 formation, I have the same feeling watching 3-5-2 with Evans, Jones and Smalling at the back.

All was revealed when the starting line-up was announced. A strong line up that consisted of De Gea, keeping his place in goal over new boy Valdes , Valencia, Jones, Rojo and Blind at the back. Carrick, Di Maria, Fellaini and Januzaj in midfield with Falcao and Wilson up front. So the majority of the fans got their way.

A first start for Adnan Januzaj since the beginning of November. There were no places for captain Rooney and Mata in the squad, most likely being rested. Robin van Persie, Shaw and Herrera all started on the bench.

The first half kicked off with the sides playing with a pink ball which gave the match a comedy feel, little did I know how unfunny the match would turn out to be. As expected United started the tie looking to take control. However, it was Cambridge who won the first corner quickly followed by a free-kick. In both set pieces the home side pushed their big players up into United’s box, but on both occasions nobody could connect with the ball.

United’s first chance came in the 10th minute with good link up play between Blind and Januzaj down the left with the keeper Dunn saving from Blind’s effort. If Blind had crossed before shooting Falcao was in a superb position in the six yard area. From the resulting corner bafflement again as Phil Jones took responsibility as he had done against QPR, the result being a poor delivery. I really can’t understand what that is all about.

As expected Cambridge went heavy into the challenges especially in the middle of the park but to a man United’s players certainly didn’t shirk away from any of them especially Marcos Rojo who was putting in a solid display at the back.

United were struggling to get any momentum going, this wasn’t helped by the poor distribution from the back. The main culprit was Jones, who once again just didn’t play with any quality. Januzaj had a tame effort from inside the box after good work from Valencia down the right. Fellaini picked up the first yellow card of the match for a needless challenge after 26 minutes.

On the half hour mark the home side almost took the lead from a corner as a header from Coulson was just inches over the bar. What a let off for United as the defenders were standing around watching the ball. LvG’s bum must have been twitching uncontrollable. Cambridge player Donaldson looked very lively and was causing United a few headaches every time he had the ball at his feet.

Towards the end of the half Angel Di Maria managed a shot on target which the Keeper almost fumbled. That was it as regards chances.

The first half from United was extremely poor with a distinct lack of ideas across the pitch. Boring is not a word I would usually associate with the Red Devils, but that’s exactly what the first half was.

James Wilson hardly touched the ball in the whole 45 minutes and once again Phil Jones didn’t exactly fill anybody with confidence. Adnan Januzaj was once again flattering to deceive. The biggest problem was that Cambridge were well marshaled in defence and limited United to speculative shots from distance as well as nullifying the threat from midfield.

The second half got underway with no changes on both sides. Man United appeared after receiving an earful from van Gaal and you could tell as they started with a more positive look. They went on the attack with Januzaj at least starting to be more direct on the left by winning an early corner, which was once again taken by Jones, and once again came to nothing. I always believed when a player who was taking a corner raised his arms it meant the ball would be delivered deep into the danger area, obviously to Jones it means something completely different.

A couple of high balls into the Cambridge penalty area came to nothing as Falcao stood no chance in the aerial battles against the taller defenders. He did come very close to scoring when through on goal but his effort was well saved by Dunn.

Wilson’s first and last impact on the match was to be shown a yellow card shortly before being replaced by Robin van Persie after 66 minutes. At the same time Herrera came on in place of Fellaini. Could Herrera repeat his heroics of the last round against Yeovil?

Van Persie almost had an immediate impact after he came on with a left footed effort flashing over the bar. Since the two substitutes came into the match United picked up a gear with Herrera linking up with Valencia on the right, but their crosses into the danger area were poor.

For the final 15 minutes ex-United player Luke Chadwick made an appearance for the home side. Would he be able to write a fairy tale ending by scoring the goal to send his old team out and his hometown club through?

Herrera was definitely the busiest of the United players. He combined well with Di Maria to prise open the home defence with a delightful one-two, but again the defenders were up to the task and cleared. When Januzaj finally crossed a decent ball into the danger area there were no white shirts in the box. Phil Jones headed clear from a dangerous Cambridge cross in the six yard box, another let off for the visitors.

Louis van Gaal’s final change of the match came in the 85th minute with Luke Shaw coming on for Blind. Cambridge hero Dunn pulled of a double save from Januzaj and Di Maria as they tried their luck in the dying minutes. That was the last of the action as the match finished 0-0.

All credit to the home side for holding United to the draw, but I must admit this was probably the worst performance from the Red Devils this season and there have been a few. Cambridge fully deserved the draw and the money spinning replay at Old Trafford. They will earn an expected £1.5 million from the match. With that much revenue maybe their manager will allow his players to swap shirts with the United stars after the replay.

On the bright side United are still in the competition and should deal with Cambridge when they meet at Old Trafford. For me the problem is the style of play, or lack of it that is. I understand it was a difficult pitch and the size of the ground made the atmosphere more intense, but please with all the expensive talent on display United should have dispatched Cambridge with ease. No excuses.

Let’s be honest this is not the first match where the team has underperformed and not been beaten. There are cracks appearing in the manager’s philosophy that can’t be papered over any more. Those cracks are the players and as the transfer window is nearing it’s end something has to be done quickly. We nearly blew our only realistic chance of silverware at Abbey Road. Imagine four months of only playing for a top four finish.

Next up is the visit of Leicester City to Old Trafford in the Premier League. Time to dish out a little revenge after they defeated us 5-3 back in September. I’m hoping the team can put on a performance that will give me something positive to write about.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

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Back to the drawing board.


Manchester United 0 Southampton 1

“Unbelievable!” was Louis van Gaal’s answer when asked about the injury situation in his pre-match press conference this week. An expression he could have used for the outcome of this match.

This was Southampton’s first win at Old Trafford in the league for 27 years, and only the second time United have been beaten at home this season. Sadly, it was the weak manner in which they lost against Southampton without even having a shot on goal that riled the most.

The first time the manager has had a fully fit squad to choose from in five months. That is apart from Ashley Young. On Friday in his press conference van Gaal seemed to enjoy the headache he would have in selecting a starting eleven. On Sunday evening he would have a headache for completely different reasons.

In the end he chose a Manchester United starting XI consisting of: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Blind, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Di Maria and Van Persie. To be used in his preferred 3-5-2 formation. There was no place for Falcao, who was not involved in the squad at all. Angel Di Maria was chosen to play alongside Robin van Persie in attack, clearly for his pace. Daley Blind was recalled to play with Smalling and Jones at the back.

It was no surprise to see Robin van Persie head the forward line as he has netted a total of six times against the Saints, while at United, including two goals in this reverse fixture in the win at St. Mary’s in December.

Angel Di Maria’s pace would be crucial in attack today, but after only playing a limited amount of minutes in the last month or so, the worry was whether he would last the pace.

All in all this United team seemed to be strong enough to get the three points and move closer to Man City who only drew on Saturday.

The opening to the first half saw Southampton enjoy the early exchanges, and in the first seconds Southampton’s Clyne had a chance when United’s defence didn’t react to a through pass, but luckily for United he pulled his shot wide.

From the fifth minute United took control and started to put some neat passes together. Di Maria floated a delightful ball across the box, unfortunately nobody reacted quickly enough to make any contact.

In the 14th minute Rooney chipped a pass to Mata who just couldn’t get past the last defender, but at least the chances were starting to develop. Rooney was controlling the play from his midfield role, spraying passes left and right and generally finding his men. One of those passes was intercepted by Alderweireld, but as he did he pulled up and had to be replaced. As the substitute was waiting to come on Di Maria tried his luck from the edge of the box but fired his effort wide.

Chris Smalling got it into his head at one point that he was a classy center back, and tried to dribble the ball out of defence only to lose it, then he lunged in on the Saints player. He was lucky to escape a booking. It’s mistakes like that which have proven costly for us this season. Likewise, Phil Jones kept joining the attack only to give the ball away when an easier choice was available.

On the half hour mark wing back Valencia went on a powerful run down the right, but he was matched for pace by the defender who managed to block the cross for a corner. Another Valencia run was illegally checked, and from the resulting free-kick Di Maria’s delivery was woeful.

A great chance opened up when van Persie put Di Maria clear. However, the ball drifted a little too wide for a shot, so Di Maria attempted to pull it back across the box, but the keeper beat Mata to the ball. Chance gone. A second clear chance came when van Persie had a shot in the box which seemed to hit a defenders hand. Mata was busy protesting when he should have been busy challenging for the ball. Chance once again gone.

United were on top throughout the first half without scoring. Lots of half chances, but you did get the feeling that Southampton were more than capable of grabbing a goal. So United needed to turn up the heat in the second half and put this match to bed as quickly as possible.

The second half got under way with no changes for United, who were attacking the Stretford End. Again, as in the first half Southampton had a chance to open the scoring within seconds. On this occasion United defended well to put the ball out for a corner.

Di Maria showed the quality of his pace as he chased a speculative long ball from Valencia down the right channel. He managed to reach it but once again his pass to van Persie was poor. The match was the same at both ends, half chances for both sides, but each time the last ball was dreadful.

The match was crying out for somebody to get a grip of the game, take it by the scruff of the neck and produce a match winning performance.

United were starting to get things together down the left with Blind, Shaw and Di Maria causing headaches for the Southampton defence. Once again all the effort wasn’t being turned into any clear- cut openings. Frustration was beginning to be felt around the stadium, and out on the pitch as van Persie needlessly picked up a yellow card.

After an hour of play Ander Herrera replaced Robin van Persie, which meant Rooney was moved back up front as the main striker, and in turn Herrera took over the captains midfield role. Straight away Rooney had a chance but failed to get his head to a cross.

The second substitution came within a few minutes of the first as Shaw was taken off. Clearly still feeling a knock from an earlier defensive interception. Tyler Blackett came on in his place.

United continued to probe away but Southampton were proving a tough nut to crack. Then in the 69th minute the Saints cracked United. After hitting the post the ball rebounded out to Dusan Tadic. He in turn slotted home the opener through a penalty area strewn with five United defenders. Once again second-rate defending from United.

The last throw of the dice from van Gaal saw Fellaini come on for the ineffective Di Maria, for the last twenty minutes, a sentence I never thought I would ever write.

The dismal mood of the day was summed up on 76 minutes when Michael Carrick was booked for a professional foul that halted an attack by Southampton.

Mata went the closest three times in the last twenty minutes. First he had a shot across the area which traveled wide of the far post, then the Spaniard put a close range effort over the bar, lastly he attempted a drive, which was deflected for a corner. It clearly was not going to be United’s day.

When the fourth official held up 5 minutes of extra time you just didn’t get that feeling of excitement from knowing United always grabbed a goal at the death. So bad was this display you felt that it gave Southampton time to add a second on the break.

In the end this result was a huge disappointment. A loss that dents any dreams of United winning the league. This was a very poor showing bearing in mind United were back to full strength, and with the attacking quality we had on display, not to manage one shot on goal is just unacceptable.

Falling to our first defeat in 12 matches the team needs to pick themselves up and start again on a run to cement a top four position. United’s next 7 premier league matches are against QPR(a), Leicester(h), WHU(a), Burnley(h), Swansea(a), Sunderland(h) and Newcastle(a). Matches that before today’s debacle seemed to hold no worries, but now take on a feeling of uncertainty.

As I’ve mentioned in past articles, our best chance of silverware has to be the FA Cup. Next up is another tricky away fixture at Cambridge United. Similar in size to Yeovil Town with a stadium of the same capacity this will not be easy, but definitely winnable.

Lastly, a big United welcome to Victor Valdes who officially joined the Red Devils this week. Now all United need to do is get David de Gea to sign a new contract and we will have a couple of World class keepers on the books. Sadly, it probably spells the end for Anders Lindegaard, if so, I hope he finds a team and gets the playing time he deserves.

Until next time thanks as always for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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